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.”

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.”

One Percent for Parks

Pols, advocates call for historic investments in parks

By Evan Triantafilidis

Elected officials and parks advocates joined forces in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Monday to call for historic investments into the city’s parks.

New York City Councilman Shekar Krishnan unveiled his five-point plan to bring new public green spaces to NYC, which includes funding the Parks Department with $1 billion in annual maintenance, the creation of a Parks Construction Authority and to upgrade playgrounds in every zip code.

Krishnan, who also chairs the council’s Committee on Parks and Rec, said that areas in Queens have some of the least amount of green space in the city. The councilman’s own neighborhood of Jackson Heights, for example, ranks second-to-last in the city when it comes to park space per capita.

“The issue of parks in our city is a social justice issue,” Krishnan said. “It is a public health issue.”

Krishnan and other lawmakers from Queens urged the Mayor to allocate one percent – or $1 billion – of the city’s near $100 billion budget for the upkeep of the city’s parks. Despite signaling his support for a “percent for parks” plan during his campaign, Mayor Eric Adams has only allocated a half-percent, or just short of $500 million, to the department in his first preliminary budget last month.

“This is the one-percent plan that advocates from across our city have been fighting for for so long,” Krishnan said. “We cannot afford any less for our parks.”

Krishnan’s plan also aims to repair a “fundamentally broken capital process” with the creation of a Parks Construction Authority. He compared the concept to the School Construction Authority, which was created in 1988 to take over control of capital projects from the city’s Board of Education.

“We had a school built for the School Construction Authority at a rapid pace with P.S. 398,” Krishnan said. “Whereas Travers Park with the Parks Department took 10 years to build. The difference is clear. We need a capital process that funds our parks that allows building efficiently and makes sure that we can quickly get more green space in our city.”

Krishnan also cited the cost of bathrooms at Marcus Garvey Park in Elmhurst reaching about $4 million, and still aren’t fully accessible.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards called Krishnan’s vision, which includes planting 1 million more trees by 2030 and to provide waterfront access for all, an “ambitious” plan.

“This is a borough of parks, from Flushing Meadows, to Alley Pond, Cunningham Park, to Roy Wilkins and beyond,” Richards said. “But for entire communities in Queens, especially in Councilman Krishnan’s district, and in my former district in Southeast Queens, having extensive green space is a dream not a reality.”

“Show us the money. We want $1 billion in this budget now,” he said.

Both Krishnan and Richards spoke to the point on how the pandemic pushed people to outdoor public spaces, calling the green spaces crucial for public health and recreation.

“It’s easy to socially distance in a massive park like Flushing Meadows or Alley Pond Park, but families in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst did not have that luxury,” Richards said. “Not only did they not have anywhere to go with their kids pre-pandemic, they didn’t have safe options to go to during the pandemic. And that’s not only unacceptable, it is insulting.”

Council Members Robert Holden, Linda Lee, Sandra Ung, Mercedes Narcisse and Lincoln Restler all spoke in favor of the five-point plan.

Restler said that a $1 billion investment into the city’s park is exactly what is needed, offering his support for the Parks Construction Authority.

“We need to make sure that our money is going to be well spent, because typically now if you give some money to the Parks Department four years later, for $4 million, you might get one bathroom,” Restler said. “It’s preposterous. The Park Construction Authority is the way to go, modeling on the great work that the School Construction Authority does to actually see our resources delivered for our communities.”

Southeast Queens receives street upgrades, affordable housing opportunities

Evan Triantafilidis

Mayor Eric Adams and Council Speaker Adrienne Adams announced the completion of two quality of life projects in Southeast Queens, directly benefiting neighborhoods they both grew up around.

A $49.3 million water infrastructure project has brought six miles of new sewers and water mains to Rochdale, and an affordable housing project has launched to create 16 new, rehabilitated homes for ownership.

Despite the downfall of hail and frozen rain, Speaker Adams rejoiced, knowing far too long about the conditions of her community.

“This is a sunny day for us,” Speaker Adams said.

“Whether you live in South Jamaica, South Ozone Park or South Richmond Hill, residents for generations have often felt forgotten, overlooked and marginalized when it comes to investments from the city that can address long standing issues. Despite the best efforts from so many of our representatives, Southeast Queens, like too many other corners of our city, endured systematic disinvestment and neglect. We felt resigned to this fate as outer boroughs left behind to deal with disparity and inequity on our own for decades,” she said.

The street improvements and flood-alleviating measures include over one mile of new storm sewers, with an additional 2,265 feet of existing storm sewers being replaced. A total of 55 new catch basins were installed and 53 old ones were replaced.

The installation of three new underground chambers and the replacement of an old one increases the holding capacity of the local sewers. During construction, 9,235 feet of sanitary sewers were replaced, and 595 feet of new sewers were installed. Over three miles of water mains were replaced to improve water infrastructure reliability.

Mayor Adams called it a “powerful moment” for the Southeast Queens community.

“New catch basins, new curbs, new sidewalks, better roads,” Mayor Adams listed. “This is a total transformation.”

The Mayor said that broken promises from previous administrations led to broken drains and further flood damage to communities in Southeast Queens.

“Whenever there is rainfall, even a drizzle, this community traditionally would just cross their fingers and hope that they would not see a flood or have their property destroyed,” he said.
“We’re improving the quality of life and making this community more resilient in our fight against climate change.”

The Mayor also kicked off “Habitat Net Zero”, an affordable home ownership project that will create 16 “Green Homes” from 13 dilapidated homes previously owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

Along with Habitat for Humanity New York City and Westchester County, and through the city’s Department of Housing Preservation (HPD), the homes will be equipped with rooftop solar panels and heat-pump technology for heating and cooling, with the aim to keep homes at or near net-zero energy use.

To ensure long-term affordability, the land will be transferred to the Interboro Community Land Trust (CLT). HPD will enter a 40-year regulatory agreement with Interboro CLT, and the CLT will enter into 99-year, renewable ground leases with each homeowner.

In addition to funding from HPD’s Open Door program, funding for the project will be financed by the New York State Affordable Housing Corporation and with Reso A funds provided by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Speaker Adams and former Councilmember I. Daneek Miller. The Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Nonprofit Finance Fund are providing construction financing, and an Article XI tax exemption will help keep ongoing housing costs affordable.

“This is going to be affordable for generations to come,” Mayor Adams said.

Felder launches campaign

By Evan Triantafilidis

Ethan Felder is running for New York State Assembly District 28, which includes Rego Park, Maspeth, Elmhurst and Forest Hills.

Ethan Felder, a labor lawyer from Forest Hills, has announced his campaign for the State’s 28th Assembly District.

The seat currently held by 17-year incumbent Andrew Hevesi represents Glendale, Richmond Hill, Kew Gardens, Ridgewood, Rego Park, Maspeth, Middle Village, Elmhurst and Forest Hills.

Over 50 people gathered at Macdonald Park in Forest Hills on March 6, for Felder’s campaign kickoff event, where he claimed that the district is in a “moment of unease.”

“Hate and violence against people and their communities have left many feeling unsafe, unheard and unwanted,” Felder said. “The answer is not detachment, condescension and empty political posturing. Complacency in these times just won’t do. It’s time to turn the page. It’s a moment where true solidarity must be twinned with sensibility, not ideological dogma. We can have public safety and stand for dignity for all people.”

Felder’s platform includes public safety, quality education and economic dignity.

He has been outspoken against the current plan for a jail being placed in Kew Gardens, as well as being in favor of raising the minimum wage to $18 per hour.

The lifelong Queens resident also promotes building trust with local police precincts, amid trends of hate crimes on the streets and in subway stations.

“Many in the community are concerned about rising crime and hate,” Felder said. “I am too. Elected officials in Albany have lost their way. People are tired of talk. It’s time for action and fresh energy.”

Showing support at the campaign launch were Monica Cruz, a spokesperson for the Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Sylvia Martina, a Lefrak City tenant and Fahad Solaiman from the Jackson Heights Bangladeshi Business Association.

Felder, a union labor lawyer at 32BJ SEIU, has served on his local Community Board 6 for six years. In 2018, he represented the tenants of LeFrak City in the fight for voting rights.

“It’s always been about service,” Felder said. “It’s what led me to represent the voters of Lefrak City pro bono when the voting rights of 6,000 people were suppressed by the Board of Elections. It’s why I rallied the community against antisemitism, anti-Asian hate and for Black Lives.”

Solaiman added, “I know him as a man who always thinks about everyone. We need people like him to talk for us, to talk for the community.”

Felder attended Cornell University for his bachelor’s degree in government and later attended Washington University in St. Louis for his MBA and doctorate in law. He is a graduate of Townsend Harris High School.

Ardila to make bid for vacant Assembly seat

Nolan retiring after serving for the last 38 years


Juan Ardila is running for State Assembly.

The Maspeth native will enter the June 28th Democratic Primary to replace Cathy Nolan, who is retiring after 38 years of service. The 37th District includes the neighborhoods of Long Island City, Maspeth, Ridgewood, and Sunnyside

“Queens residents deserve affordable housing, improved public transit, and a plan to combat climate change,” said Ardila. “Growing up in an immigrant family, I have experienced how important it is to have representation that understands how government can impact our lives.

“In Albany, I will be a champion for our seniors, our workers, and our tenants,” he added. “I am excited for a better future for all New Yorkers.”

Ardila is a first-generation American, the son of a Columbian father and Honduran-Cuban mother. After seeing his mother nearly deported and watching other family members face persecution from gang violence in Honduras, Ardila began his journey to public service.

He earned a B.A. in Political Science from Fordham University and a master’s degree in Public Administration from NYU. He attended St. Adalbert Catholic Academy in Elmhurst before going to high school in Briarwood at Archbishop Molloy High School.

Ardila previously served as a staffer in the office of Brad Lander when he was in the City Council. He also worked at the International Rescue Committee in Manhattan and as a consultant at the city’s Department of Education.

He currently works at the Legal Aid Society.

Last year, Ardila challenged Councilman Robert Holden in the Democratic Primary. He fell 926 votes short of defeating the incumbent, garnering 45 percent of the vote.

Ardila’s Assembly bid has already earned the endorsements of State Senator Jessica Ramos, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, and Councilwoman Jennifer Gutierrez.

“Juan draws on his experience in providing legal representation for all New Yorkers, and will bring his unwavering dedication to listen to working families,” said Ramos, “to organize his community around key priorities such as housing infrastructure, increased access to public transportation, and a more inclusive public education system.”

Ardila’s also has the backing of Make the Road Action and Churches United for Fair Housing Action.

“Juan Ardila is a fighter for his community who has stood with immigrant, LatinX, Black, and working-class members of his community in the fight for respect and dignity,” said Theo Oshiro, co-executive director of Make the Road Action. “We were proud to support him before, and we’re proud to support him again.”

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