NEW YORK -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday said he was creating a task force to investigate nail salons and crack down on worker abuse following a report of widespread exploitation and health problems of manicurists.
"New York State has a long history of confronting wage theft and unfair labor practices head on," he said in a statement. "We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights."
The task force will recover unpaid wages and shut down unlicensed businesses, Cuomo said. New health regulations will be created and implemented to require protective gear where warranted and increase ventilation in the salons that often reek of chemicals.
A two-part investigative series in The New York Times found nail salon workers were forced to toil long hours amid toxic chemicals performing manicures and pedicures for little wages. The stories also reported many workers suffered serious health problems and there was little, if any, protection for them.
Cuomo says the plans are taking shape after the reports last week. He said salons will be required to post signs in a half-dozen languages that inform works of their rights, and will also perform outreach to encourage workers to come forward to report abuses.
Cuomo said later Monday that one of the problems with uncovering abuses is that many of the workers have "issues" with their immigration status and are afraid to contact authorities or a lawyer. Also, few workers have health insurance.
While members of the task force will not inspect every salon, "the nail salons need to know that there's a possibility that an inspector will walk in the door."
Part one of the report was the most viewed, emailed and shared Times article on Facebook last week. New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir spoke to CBSN's Vladimir Duthiers and Anne-Marie Green last week about the startling findings.
"It's an oxymoron: cheap luxury," Nir said. "Somebody is bearing the cost of your discount in New York City that someone is always the worker."
Nir, who worked 13 months on the story, equated the worker exploitation to slavery. She said the living conditions of many nail salon workers are deplorable: In one Queens apartment, eight people were crammed into a one-bedroom apartment; in another, 25 people shared a 2-bedroom apartment.
"It was really horrific to see, especially with the juxtaposition: they work on Madison Ave and they come back to this," Nir said.