Last month many in the Korean American community were, in the words of one of our members, “saddened and even ashamed” to read about the exploitation of workers in the nail salon industry.
In a series of widely-cited articles (Part 1, Part 2), the New York Times described a world in which Korean, as well as Vietnamese and Chinese American business owners preyed upon vulnerable immigrant workers who were ill-informed of their rights and often hazardous working conditions.
What received less attention over the following days and weeks was the hard work of community leaders who responded to the media firestorm and worked both to dispel myths and to forge constructive solutions. One important such leader was New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing).
Assemblyman Kim, a native of Queens, New York, was elected in 2012, becoming the first Korean American to be elected to the New York State Legislature. New York City is home to over 2,000 nail salons according to the New York Times, by far the most per capita of any metropolitan area.
He said in email to CKA about the nail salon story:
Our office has been meeting with groups non-stop to focus on long-term solutions that can help turn an exploitable and vulnerable workforce into an empowered one, while working to support the good operators.
Indeed, in his email updates to his constituents, in his public statements, his op-ed in the Huffington Post, and the legislation he has introduced, Assemblyman Kim’s message is consistent: we need to empower vulnerable workers, and separate the good from the bad operators. Because of his leadership and standing in the community, his voice has strongly influenced the actions of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as well as those of New York City leaders.
CKA applauds Assemblyman Kim for the work he is doing not just for our community, but for all communities. He reminds us of why it is important that we have a seat at the table, and the good that can be done when leaders like him sit in that seat.