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CLS Testimony Opposing Hair Braiding Licensing Requirements


CLS Testimony Opposing Hair Braiding Licensing Requirements

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Nadia Hewka, Senior Staff Attorney in the Community Legal Services Employment Unit, gave the following testimony before the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee on December 12, 2018

Thank you to Senator Boscola and the rest of this Committee for inviting me to speak today. My name is Nadia Hewka and I am a Senior Staff Attorney in the Employment Unit of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. CLS has represented low-income Pennsylvania workers in legal disputes and on policy matters for over 40 years. Every day we see the unintended consequences of systems and laws that negatively impact working Pennsylvanians. As our state faces ever-increasing income inequality, we must make sure that our laws do not stand in the way of career paths for low income Pennsylvanians. Because more and more career paths involve licensing requirements, we are working to remove certain barriers to employment that tend to exclude poor and minority Pennsylvanians, such as unfair consideration of criminal records, and of civil findings of abuse or neglect made without any due process. We also seek to get rid of overly burdensome and unnecessary licensing regimes.

I am here today to wholeheartedly support the repeal of the licensing requirements for natural hair braiders in Pennsylvania, as they are unnecessary for public health and safety. Unlike other kinds of hair salons, the appeal of natural hair braiding to its customers is that it involves no chemicals and no heating implements whatsoever. For this reason, it presents no public health and safety concern either to customers or to workers that would require any licensing. In recognition of this fact, this summer, Governor Wolf’s commission on licensing reform released its findings and recommended the elimination of the current licensing regime for hair braiders for this reason [cite]. To be clear, CLS is not opposed to all licenses, but we hope you will agree that in this instance, licensing is simply not necessary and serves no legitimate state purpose.

As background information, prior to 2006, there was no licensing requirement for natural hair braiders.  In 2006 a requirement was put into the Cosmetology Law to require 300 hours of classes and an exam before a license can be obtained. The change in law led to many salon owners to leave the industry while others have faced years of penalties and fines.

As you will hear today from one of our clients, very few schools actually offer the hairbraiding-only course. Apparently there is not enough money it in for the schools. An attempt to locate schools offering this course through a statewide search tool found no results, which would discourage many potential applicants (image attached). Through some sleuthing we have found only one cosmetology school in the Philadelphia area currently offering a 320 hour course for hair braiders at the cost of $2800 and $93 for the exam. Outside of Philadelphia we found two schools offering the course for about $4000. If nearby schools do not offer these courses, currently the only way to be properly licensed would be to pay more money for classes for a cosmetology license, with its 1250 hours of classwork requirement and 2000 hours in apprenticeship time. And of course, all such courses for both hair braiding and cosmetology are in English, as are the exams.

In Philadelphia, as in other parts of the state, hair braiders are for the most part immigrants from West Africa. Many came here as adults and thus have a more difficult time gaining English fluency than their children do. Instead they must quickly find work to support their families and hair braiding is one option in which the skills have already been acquired back in their home country, and English fluency is not necessary, just the acquisition of a few words to communicate with a customer about what is wanted, whether the pulling is too tight, etc. A licensing system that requires an exam on a computer in English unfairly disadvantages the immigrant women who are most skilled in this craft.

The beauty of their cultural tradition has been catching on in the US with women seeking an alternative to chemicals and hot irons. Hair is not straightened, so harsh chemicals are not used; hair extensions are woven in and can provide color, if wanted. The hairstyles can last a month or two and are thus economical, even though each hairstyle can take 3-4 hours to complete. There is a steady flow of customers wanting this service, leading to successful, family-sustaining businesses that also provide jobs to other women, whether immigrant or not. These businesses also contribute to vibrant commercial corridors in parts of the state that cater to African American women.

Finally, other states that have recently looked at this issue have decided that licensing regimes like Pennsylvania’s make no sense, most recently in our neighboring state of New Jersey.  We should join them in taking action on this issue quickly.

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