Astoria Starbucks first in Queens to file to unionize

An Astoria Starbucks is filing for a union, the first of its kind in Queens.

The store, located at 30-18 Astoria Boulevard, announced its plans to file a petition for a union election in a letter written to President and CEO Howard Schultz.

“The organizing committee at Astoria Blvd. firmly stands in solidarity with unionization efforts across the country,” the letter reads. “The same courage of stores before us has empowered our baristas to take positive action. We are cautiously excited for the future of a company that is reflective of its workforce and not of corporate greed.”

The Astoria location is part of more than 145 stores across the country that have filed to unionize.

Elected officials at all levels of government showed their support for the workers at the Astoria Boulevard store with a letter of support and impromptu visits to the store.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani and Councilmember Tiffany Cabán all signed on to the letter calling for Schultz to sign the Fair Election Principles and respecting the workers’ right to organize.

“Every worker should have the right to organize a union and bargain collectively,” Gianaris said. “I stand with the workers at my local store and the entire Starbucks Workers United effort as they fight for better working conditions and fair pay for all associates. I call on Starbucks to allow the free, unencumbered election these workers deserve.”

In February, three Starbucks locations in New York City made their first efforts to unionize, just weeks after three more stores in Buffalo were the first to do so. The first union elections in New York City will be an in-person vote at the Roastery at the end of the month.

The Astor Place location will be voting by mail with ballots going out at the start of next month, and ballots for Caesar’s Bay in Brooklyn, Great Neck in Long Island, and Massapequa in Long Island will go out a week later.

Brandi Aldu, a Starbucks Workers United organizing committee member, said, “My fellow partners and I decided to unionize because we are forced to manage the consequences of decisions we were not a part of, made by people who don’t understand what it is like to live a life as a Starbucks barista.”

Two-alarm fire on Grand Avenue in Maspeth

FDNY responded to a two-alarm fire along Grand Avenue in Maspeth, on March 16, which left three injured.

The blaze broke out around 10 a.m. inside the three-story commercial building at 65-50 Grand Avenue spreading from Lafyes Jewelry store.

Twenty-five units were dispatched to fight the blaze, and more than 100 firefighters and EMS were at the scene. FDNY were able to have the fire under control around 11:30 a.m.

According to an FDNY spokesperson, two civilians and one firefighter were injured and transported to Elmhurst Hospital Center.

The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.

Progressives call for the end of 421-a

Progressive politicians have a new rallying cry: “421-a , let it die!”

The little-known abbreviation is a major property tax break for developers that is set to expire this summer – and the left wants to keep it that way. The 421-a tax program was created in 1971 to spurn investment when the city was lacking money. But critics now see it as an antiquated piece of legislation that gives tax breaks for developers while failing to achieve affordable housing.

Under 421-a, developers can receive tax breaks for building housing that is determined affordable at 130 percent of the average median income. In areas like Williamsburg, that means that a single adult making over $100,000 could qualify for affordable housing.

Councilwomen Tiffany Cabán and Pierina Sanchez introduced a resolution to urge the state legislature and Governor to allow the program to expire while Comptroller Brad Lander released an analysis of the 421-a that recommended its lapse and for structural property tax reform to replace it.

New York State Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher has also introduced legislation, that is currently in committee, that would give the state the power to audit potential overcharging of rents in 421-a buildings.

“421-a is not an affordable housing strategy, it’s free billions for developers. At a time when we have so many people desperately in need of vital assistance, we have absolutely got to stop this massive giveaway to the wealthy real estate interests who need it least,” Cabán said.

In recent months, Governor Hochul has proposed a new version of 421-a, called 485-w, that would make modest changes to the affordability requirements and wages for construction workers.

“Governor Hochul’s proposal was offensive: plain and simple. It’s tweaking, in the most minor and modest ways, a program that is fundamentally broken. We need to end 421-a; we need to go back to the drawing board,” Councilman Lincoln Restler said. “ We need to start investing in housing that’s going to end the homelessness crisis that’s going to make sure that each and every family in our community can afford to stay and live in our community.”

The comptrollers report found that this year the city will give up $1.77 billion in 421-a tax breaks while the city comparatively spends 1.1 billion on the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

“So all the money the city intentionally spends on affordable housing for a wide range of people – folks who have been homeless or folks who are getting a first rung on the homeownership ladder. The whole array of HPD programs is less than we give away in 421-a tax breaks tax breaks,” Lander said.

Lander’s report features a proposal for property tax reform that would replace the 421-a program while still creating incentives for developers to build affordable housing. It includes creating a new targeted affordable housing tax incentive to build true affordability, equalize tax treatment between residential construction, and also introduce a revenue-neutral tax rate for family homes, small rental buildings as well as condos and co-ops.

The 421-a tax program is set to expire June 15th of this year and the proposed deadline for structural tax reform laid out in Lander’s plan would be in the winter of this year.

Cuomo won’t quit, but some think he should

The hits keep on coming for former NYS Gov. Andrew Cuomo, yet for some reason, the man continues to put out campaign rhetoric, despite the fact he hasn’t even announced plans to run for office.

His new pseudo-campaign advertisement certainly raised a few eyebrows, considering his reluctant resignation from office last August amid multiple accusations of sexual harassment by former aides. In his commercial, Cuomo appears apologetic, admitting “I haven’t been perfect. I’ve made mistakes. But I also made a difference.”

Cuomo says that he believes “cancel culture” and “political attacks” contributed to his early departure from office, claiming that reports conducted by Attorney General Letitia James are full of “omissions and inaccuracies.”

In addition to the sexual harassment scandal, he has been heavily criticized for his misuse of government resources to write a $5 million memoir and deliberately altering the number of COVID-related deaths in nursing homes to inflate the perception of New York’s performance. (Not to mention the accusations against his brother, former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo).

Earlier this week State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released the findings of an internal audit, uncovering that a persistent lack of funding over the last decade forced the NYS Department of Health to operate without critical information systems and staff that could’ve helped identify and limit the spread of COVID-19 within nursing homes.

The audit uncovered that the health department understated the number of nursing home deaths by at least 4,100 people and that Cuomo used his executive authority to control infromation provided to the public.

“The pandemic was devastating and deadly for New Yorkers living in nursing homes. Families have a right to know if their loved one’s COVID-19 death was counted, but many still don’t have answers from the state Department of Health,” DiNapoli stated. “Our audit findings are extremely troubling. The public was misled by those at the highest level of state government through distortion and suppression of the facts when New Yorkers deserved the truth. The pandemic is not over, and I am hopeful the current administration will make changes to improve accountability and protect lives. An important step would be for DOH to provide the families who lost loved ones with answers as to the actual number of nursing homes residents who died. These families are still grieving, and they deserve no less.”

The fact the numbers were so easily suppressed speaks volumes about the level of corruption that exists in Albany.

Nevertheless, new polling data provided from The Hill and Emerson College, show that despite everything, were he to attempt to make a bid for his former office, he could potentially have a chance at beating his successor, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The poll revealed that 37 percent of Democratic primary voters would support Hochul with Cuomo pulling in close behind at 33 percent. Meanwhile, current contenders U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi and NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams polled in seven and four percent of voters respectively.

The poll also revealed that 59 percent of voters polled trusted the findings of AG Letitia James.

Cuomo’s recent “God isn’t finished with me yet” performance at a Brooklyn church furthered the rumors of his potential run for re-election, much to the chagrin of several other Democrats, who are hoping he won’t run again.

Jay Jacobs, the chair of the NY Democratic party, told CNBC that he thinks running for office would be a “bad mistake” for Cuomo, who claims that he is open to the idea of creating his own political party in order to try and reclaim his seat, instead of attempting to secure the Democratic nomination.

But Jacobs isn’t the only one opposed to having Cuomo run for office.

NYS Assemblyman Ron Kim, chair of the aging committee, slammed the former Governor and his administration, stating that the findings of DiNapoli’s audit “verified public fraud at the highest level of state government.”

“Cuomo suppressed and covered up life-and-death data while pursuing a multi-million dollar book deal,” Kim states. “His actions were never about protecting our most vulnerable, they were about pure egotism and self-enrichment at the cost of others’ lives.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, another of the Democratic candidates in the race for Governor, also commented on Cuomo’s continued attempts to discredit the findings of the state AG, calling his “cancel culture” remarks a sign of his “unbridled hubris and insistence to deny responsibility, dodge accountability and gaslight the masses.”

Despite the opinions of elected officials within his own party, based on the polls, there are certainly a number of New Yorkers standing in Cuomo’s corner regardless of the harassment scandal, book deal, and nursing home audit. However, it still remains unclear if he intends to run in the upcoming election.

Pols push for “To Go” Drinks

The commercial corridors of Jackson Heights are lined with one of the city’s most diverse dining scenes.

But for many small businesses, like Mojito’s Restaurant and Bar, staying afloat during a pandemic is proving to be costly and challenging.

Owner Marcos Munuoz says it has been the temporary relief funds and legislation, which allows for the sale of alcoholic drinks to-go, that have been vital lifelines to staying open.

First signed as an executive order in March 2020, the 15-month temporary legislation of drinks-to-go expired in June 2021.

NY State Governor Kathy Hochul said in her State of the State address, back in January, that her administration intends to make the temporary program a permanent one in her upcoming budget proposal. But after the issue was left out of the latest Assembly and Senate budget plans, the return of the popular pandemic measure may have to wait before the rules and regulations of the program are made by the State Liquor Authority.

Having closed for two months at the start of the pandemic, Munoz says his Latin fusion restaurant at 81-01 Northern Boulevard is starting to “fall apart again.”

“It’s not that we want it, we really need it,” Munoz said of the drinks-to-go initiative.

Munoz was joined by elected officials to call for the once-temporary program to return indefinitely.

NY State Senator Jessica Ramos, who also chairs the labor committee, said that no other industry had it harder throughout the pandemic than restaurants. She agrees that measures should be passed to make to-go drinks a permanent revenue-generator for businesses like Mojito’s.

“There were seemingly laws changed every week, new executive orders, new changes to the way they were allowed to build outdoor seating, and they had to pivot and adopt at every corner at every step of the way,” said Ramos, a high school classmate of Munoz.

“And because of that many restaurants in our community and across the city and state have seen dwindling profit margins, which of course translates to fewer jobs in our communities and less access to food in many corners of our state,” Ramos said.

Ramos is the prime co-sponsor of a senate bill (S.8184) which would make the drinks-to-go program permanent.

Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas pointed to a statewide survey of 700 New Yorkers conducted by the New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA), which found more than 78 percent in support of alcohol-to-go becoming permanent. Another survey by the NYSRA found that 98 percent of restaurant operators would resume offering drinks-to-go if the program was made permanent.

“When I talk about my district, I tell folks, I don’t have a library, I don’t have a hospital, I don’t have a community center, I don’t have a senior center and I don’t have NYCHA,” said Gonzalez-Rojas, whose district includes the heart of Jackson Heights and parts of Woodside and Elmhurst.

“But what I do have are the best restaurants in New York City,” she said.

In Woodside, Neir’s Tavern hosted a similar press conference with the NYSRA last month, where unified calls were made for the legislation to be included in the final budget.

On the two-year anniversary of the enacted emergency orders that shuttered all restaurants, NYSRA President and CEO Melissa Fleischut reflected on how the industry has maneuvered throughout the pandemic.

“Two years ago, no one could have anticipated the plight that laid ahead for our industry. Restaurants quickly pivoted to robust take-out programs to keep from drowning. For 15 months, alcohol-to-go allowed restaurants to survive by offering customers their full menu offerings as we were hampered by various restrictions and the rise of variants,” Fleischut said. “Alcohol-to-go is critical to the recovery of our $50-billion industry and has the support of 78 percent of New Yorkers. We know there is support in both houses and we urge the state to include alcohol-to-go in the final enacted budget.”

Pols host vigil to remember AAPI hate crime victims

Last year, eight victims, including six Asian women, were killed when suspected gunman Robert Aaron Long opened fire in a shooting spree targeting three spas in the Atlanta area.

One year later, elected officials in Queens held a candlelight vigil in their memory. The event was co-sponsored by New York City Councilwoman Sandra Ung, Councilwoman Linda Lee, Councilwoman Julie Won and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.

Participants held up candles, white flowers and photos of the victims—Xiaojie Tan, 49, Daoyou Feng, 44, Hyun Jung Grant, 51, Suncha Kim, 69, Soon Chung Park, 74, Yong Ae Yue, 63, Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33 and Paul Andre Michels, 54—as speakers addressed the ever-present violence against Asian individuals in New York City.

“He deliberately sought out these businesses because they were owned by Asian women. Make no mistake, this was a hate crime,” Ung said.

“Just this week, an elderly woman was punched 125 times simply because she was Asian,” Ung continued. “Every week, we hear of new accounts of Asian women being attacked, including the recent deaths of Christina Yuna Lee, Michelle Go, and GuiYing Ma.”

Ung expressed how she fears for her safety as an Asian woman walking in the streets of New York City and taking public transportation. She also said AAPI children must be given a sense of dignity and seniors a sense of security.

“No one should fear for their life simply because of the color of their skin, their religion or who they love,” she said.“So many New Yorkers face intolerance and bigotry, and because of that, we won’t stop fighting to make New York a welcoming place for everyone.”

Lee, who became the first Korean-American elected to the New York City Council, said that a multi-prong approach with more culturally competent services is necessary to combat Asian hate.

“We need to make sure that there is teaching of acceptance in schools, and that Asian Americans are not seen as outsiders or others. We also need to continue to work with our public safety police officers and community liaisons so we can advocate and work together,” Lee said. “We need to make sure that we are actually increasing services and resources into the city as well, so people who are homeless have places to go, that the mentally ill are getting services that they need, and that our community groups have enough funding to be able to hire staff that speak in-language.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards addressd the crowd, saying: “an attack on us is an attack on all of us.”

During the vigil, Lee also shared that she was disappointed that a self defense instructor she recently met has a lengthly waiting list for classes geared specifically towards Asian seniors.

“They’re targeting women and seniors because we are more vulnerable,” she said. “We need to do as much upstander and bystander training as possible, and look out for each other and be there as a community because it takes all of us.”

Councilman Shekar Krishnan also spoke at the event, emphasizing that violence and discrimination against the AAPI community is not a new phenomenon.

“Hate against Asian American communities goes back generations where we have been invisibilized as communities—where we aren’t seen, we aren’t heard and many of the stereotypes and prejudices about our communities must be shattered,” Krishnan said.

“This invisibilization has meant that the fears and genuine safety concerns of so many seniors and Asian American women have not been recognized for so long,” he added. “To come out and to solve and eradicate this hate, the one thing that’s required first is to listen to the voices of our Asian American communities.”

NYC Councilwoman Linda Lee holds up an image of one of the victims of the Atlanta spa shootings.

Other elected officials who showed their support at the vigil, include NYC Comptroller Brad Lander, State Senator John Liu and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic.

“There have been nearly 11,000 anti-Asian hate crimes across the country in the year since those beautiful souls in Atlanta were lost,” Lander said. “We cannot tolerate that in our city and we must find ways to work together to make it safe. Asian New Yorkers, all New Yorkers, deserve to be able to walk around their city without feeling like they might be targeted for violence just because of who they are.”

Many of the evening’s speakers cited the statement made by BP Richards in regard to Queens. He said, “an attack on us is an attack on all of us,” symbolizing the diversity and sense of unity that is present in the borough.

“How many times must we stand here? We’ve been here too many times,” Richards said. “Almost every single day, we hear news of another Asian American being accosted or attacked, targeted for who they are and what they look like. Asian Americans right here in New York, of all places, have felt the sting of racism and violence.”

“I wish these were isolated events, but they are not. Crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed nationwide by nearly 350 percent. We must continue to stand in solidarity with them against this pandemic of prejudice,” Richards said. “Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson don’t have a vaccine for this virus… All of us standing here today are the cure.”

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