What’s behind the doors of massage parlors ?

The massage parlors in Albuquerque seem to have bought their signs from the same sign company. Many of the signs are identical, the word “MASSAGE” in bright red letters against a white background.

They are everywhere. I’m beginning to think massage parlors have replaced payday lenders as the most common businesses in strip malls. There are websites where you can read reviews of the parlors in several New Mexico cities. To verify that, I googled an appropriate term (use your imagination), took a quick look, then clicked off within seconds and erased my browser history.  I wanted to wash my computer.

According to one recent news report, there are 849 massage businesses in Albuquerque.  Some of them are quite legitimate, providing genuine health-related services.  They identify themselves as therapeutic or medical and none have a big red sign out front.  They also have a certificate of New Mexico licensure on the wall.

Before I become too disgusted to continue, let me get to the point:  I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that these red-sign massage parlors don’t have workers’ compensation insurance.

The workers’ compensation law requires that every business in New Mexico with three or more employees must have workers’ comp insurance. There are a few narrow exemptions, but I assure you, no exemption applies to prostitution – or whatever these places are.

If a business that comes under the coverage requirement doesn’t have coverage and fails to obtain it, the Worker’s Compensation Administration is empowered to take the business to court, obtain a court order and get a sheriff’s deputy to padlock the doors.

The WCA actually closed such a place once, quite a few years ago, when I worked there.  In those days we didn’t worry about what would happen to the young women who were put out of work.

Today the situation would be different. Today there is a good chance that those young women are not there voluntarily but are human trafficking victims, possibly brought to the United States under false pretenses.

Recently I’ve been reminding my former colleagues at the WCA that they have the power to shut these businesses down and it’s the work they ought to be doing. The public display of what appears to be prostitution upsets me a little bit; the likelihood that there are human slaves behind those doors upsets me much more.

Here’s another guess: I’ll bet some of those businesses are not reporting wages and paying unemployment insurance tax to the Department of Workforce Solutions, using employees’ real names. I’ll bet they’re not taking payroll deductions against employees’ income tax and filing with the Taxation and Revenue Department.  I seriously doubt they follow the laws regarding minimum wage and overtime, or OSHA safety rules.

It wouldn’t surprise me if they are violating local zoning laws, especially if the employees are living in the building.  Zoning is a municipal issue.

Finally, it’s doubtful they have a New Mexico massage license.  The state Massage Therapy Board, a division of the Regulation and Licensing Department, could probably close them down, if it had adequate staff.  Isn’t that why that board exists?

I started suggesting years ago, when I worked at the WCA, that it would make sense to have an inter-agency coordinating council for all the agencies that have a regulatory role in employment. I’m suggesting it again.

New Mexico has an interagency task force for human trafficking, as I wrote a few weeks ago. There is also an agency called Life Link, telephone 505-438-3733, that can coordinate services for the trafficked individuals, who will be greatly in need of help and support when they are freed from their captors.

All those government agencies have enforcement capabilities. I don’t know what their enforcement bureaus are doing, but those red signs tell me they are not doing enough.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2019


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