Tag Archives: Public Advocate Letitia James

Astoria co-op calls for gas service to be restored, sheds light on bigger problems


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirao

Shareholders and residents of one Astoria co-op building are caught in the middle of a blame game, and want to get the services they are paying for and deserve.

The occupants of Acropolis Gardens, located between 33rd and 35th streets off Ditmars Boulevard, gathered with Councilman Costa Constantinides and Public Advocate Letitia James Monday calling on the building’s management company to restore gas and hot water, which have been out in the building since late April.

The gas service in eight of the 16 buildings that make up the complex was turned off after a fire occurred on April 29. Since then only two of the eight buildings have gotten the gas service back.

“For eight of the 16 buildings here, this is week eight of not being able to take a hot shower after a long day. This is week number eight of not being able to come home and use their stove to cook themselves a hot meal,” Constantinides said. “This has been week eight of their lives being turned upside down and today we are here to say enough is enough. It’s time to get the work done.”

Con Edison has not turned the gas back on in the buildings because of internal piping issues the building’s management company, Metropolitan Pacific Properties, needs to address first, according to a spokesman.

“The service was shut off to several of the buildings because of unauthorized, improper hookups that violate building codes. Building management has been made fully aware of what they need to do,” the spokesman said. “Gas was shut off for the safety of the residents. We’ll continue working with the city to make restorations as proper repairs are made.”

The co-op board held a rally Sunday with residents and members of the management company calling on Con Edison to turn the gas back on in the complex.

“I’m not only affected but everyone in the complex is affected and ultimately the goal of a a co-op is to operate effectively as one and what is going on is atrocious and it really seems to be Con Edison’s negligence and faulty,” said Ryan Herzich, a resident and shareholder at the Acropolis for about a year, who attended the rally. “Management has been doing everything they can to alleviate that. They’ve been very responsive and proactive in communications with me and all the other tenants and shareholders.”

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Steve Osman, CEO of Metropolitan Pacific Properties, speaks during a rally Sunday. (Photo by Michael Johnson)

Steve Osman, CEO of Metropolitan Pacific Properties, said that all work being done within the complex has proper permits and they are in the process of replacing oil burners with natural gas.

During the rally on Monday morning, both Constantinides and James said that instead of pointing fingers, the management company has to first deal with the issue and work with Con Edison to get the gas turned back on and then deal with any problems within agencies.

“We have to work together to fix this problem and there have been enough recriminations, enough of the blame game,” James said. “Fix the problem and fix it now. It’s as simple as that.”

Osman said that the issues with the heat and hot water should be resolved once the burners are replaced with the new ones.

“There’s always going to be some issues, you can please 90 percent of the people and the 10 percent you don’t is always the loudest,” Osman said. “As management we know we’re never going to please 100 percent but that 10 percent is always the loudest. There are sales here every single week, they’re selling for record prices right now, we have four closings coming up. This didn’t hurt any of it.”

However, according to residents, there are other problems that they have been dealing with management for the past years.

Shallena Jabid, who has been living in Acropolis Gardens since 2011 and has owned her apartment since 2007, said, “I hope somebody can do something.”

A source close to the situation told The Courier Wednesday that James is working to set up a meeting with all parties involved in the hope of resolving this matter.

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Mayor de Blasio announces new effort to improve nail salon workers’ lives


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

File photo

BY ANGELA MATUA

Nail salon workers in New York have recently received attention from elected officials for experiencing poor working conditions, with Mayor Bill de Blasio being the latest to implement reforms to the industry.

Though the city has limited jurisdiction over labor and wage laws — the State of New York is in charge of licensing and inspecting the 2,000 nail salons in the city — de Blasio set a number of initiatives on Friday to educate workers on their rights and to investigate both the chemicals used in nail products and wage practices in the industry.

The initiatives will be led by the Department of Consumer Affairs with support from the Department of Small Business Services, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence and others.

Public Advocate Letitia James and other elected officials who have worked to combat these conditions will also work with the city on these initiatives.

“Every New Yorker must be protected from predatory workplace practices that threaten their health and exploit their labor,” de Blasio said. “We will use all available powers to shield nail salon workers from deplorable conditions, empower them with awareness of their rights, and offer every other support we can to ensure the safety and dignity of our hardworking fellow New Yorkers.”

The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) will investigate, test products and send subpoenas to companies that make invalid product claims, according to a press release.

The DCA will also investigate employment agencies that place nail salon workers in nail salons to ensure these placements occur in jobs that pay at least minimum wage.

“We cannot stand by while the most vulnerable workers among us are exposed to toxic chemicals and equally toxic conditions of employment,” said DCA Commissioner Julie Menin. “We will harness all the means at our disposal to make sure that salon workers and customers are protected.”

Consumers can also sign a petition here to the Personal Care Products Council, the leading national trade association for the cosmetics industry, to tell them that the “price of beauty shouldn’t be your and your manicurist’s health.”

On Monday, May 18, a letter will be sent to nearly 3,000 nail salons to inform them of their responsibilities under New York’s Paid Sick Leave Law.

Other initiatives include a Day of Action on May 21, where 500 volunteers and city representatives will distribute information about “workers’ rights, the city’s training and job connection programs, employer obligations and business support service, and consumer tips” across the five boroughs.

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Cuomo calls for emergency measures to protect nail salon workers


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

FingernailPolishHC1506_L_300_C_R

BY ANGELA MATUA

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has enacted emergency measures for nail salon workers amid reports regarding wage disparities and hazardous health conditions within the industry.

A multi-agency task force will conduct investigations, mandate rules to protect manicurists from dangerous chemicals in nail products and educate nail salon workers of their rights, according to a statement.

Public Advocate Letitia James last week held a rally to pass the Nail Salon Health and Safety Bill which would work to protect nail salon workers from exposure to chemicals and to increase salon inspections to make sure they comply with proposed safety measures.

“I commend Governor Cuomo for taking strong action to improve the conditions of these salons,” James said on Monday. “We must stand together for our most vulnerable workers who are being exploited and provide them with the basic rights ensured to every New Yorker.”

Lois Christie, owner of Christie & Co. Salon and Spa in Bayside, is a strong supporter of James’ bill and said the emergency measures should have been put in place long ago.

“I think it’s long overdue,” Christie said. “Most smaller salons, I know this for a fact, not only do they underpay employees, they pay in cash and are not paying taxes.”

Nail salons that do not pay workers back wages or are unlicensed will be shut down.

They will also be required to publicly post signs that inform workers of their rights and that it is illegal to work without payment. According to a two-part New York Times expose, employers would often underpay or completely withhold wages from employees and would charge them a fee to be trained on the job.

Manicurists will also be required to wear gloves and masks to reduce the risks of skin conditions and exposure to chemicals.

“New York State has a long history of confronting wage theft and unfair labor practices head-on, and today, with the formation of this new Enforcement Task Force, we are aggressively following in that tradition,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights.”

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Nail salon safety gets attention at City Hall rally


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of  Twitter/@TishJames

BY ANGELA MATUA

Public Advocate Letitia James wants your local nail salon to improve its health and safety conditions.

James joined advocates and elected officials outside of City Hall on Friday to rally in support of the Nail Salon Health and Safety Bill.

The bill would require all nail salons in New York City to register with the City Department of Health. Currently, New York State is in charge of inspecting the 5,000 nail salons in the state. New York City is home to 2,000 of those salons. There are only 32 inspectors dedicated to this task and only 25 percent of the nail salons are inspected each year.

“New Yorkers from all walks of life patronize our city’s nail salons on a regular basis, but most do not know that many of these businesses are rife with unsanitary conditions and hazardous chemicals that endanger the health of both customers and employees that work there every day,” James said.

Lois Christie, owner of Christie & Co. Salon and Spa in Bayside, said this bill is an important and necessary step to keeping customers safer.

“[In] my opinion, many nail salons really don’t follow the proper sterilization license rules and in fact, many put other products in other bottles so you think for example they’re using something like a gel but they’re using acrylic or something else,” Christie said.

Christie & Co. has been in business for 45 years, and Christie said her salon takes extreme measures to make sure their tools are sterilized. She uses autoclave to sterilize her instruments, which is the same process that dentists use for their tools.

Though the machine used to sterilize her tools is very expensive, Christie said she believes her clients deserve that level of care.

Christie said people should ask for the licenses of technicians working at the nail salons they visit and also be aware of how they sterilize their tools.

“People should have a level of safety just like a food [business], you want to know if somebody’s kitchen is clean,” Christie said.

The bill would also require the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to develop guidelines to improve the health and safety of nail salons.

Nail salons would be incentivized to install a new mechanical ventilation unit to improve air quality and can be reimbursed for up to $500.

According to a report released by James, hazardous chemicals such as toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate are used regularly in nail products and have been linked with reproductive harm, respiratory problems and cancer.

Salon workers are most at risk since they deal with these chemicals and do not wear any protective gear.

A task force of physicians, practitioners, government and advocates would also be required to gather data and produce a report on nail salon health, safety and standards of practice under this bill.

“Nail salons should not only help New Yorkers feel beautiful, they must also keep nail salon workers safe and healthy,” said Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacifica American Women’s Forum. “Intro 304-A is an important first step in creating healthier salons for consumers and workers.”

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Council member slams Astoria Cove project in hearing


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture

A member of the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises called the affordable housing portion of the Astoria Cove project “a joke.”

Councilman Antonio Reynoso joined the choir of critics against the affordable housing portion of the mega development in the council’s public hearing on Monday.

Other public officials such as Astoria Councilman Costa Constatinides and Public Advocate Letitia James also emphasized that the proposed units for low-income residents aren’t enough.

Representatives for the team of developers on the project have boasted that the project is leading the way in affordable housing with a proposed 20 percent or 345 units of the 1,723 dwellings put aside for low-income residents.

But Reynoso, referencing former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s voluntary 80/20 program, in which 20 percent of units in new developments are reserved for affordable housing in return for benefits, told Astoria Cove project representatives, “What you’re doing is not unprecedented in any way, shape or form; 80/20 without subsidies is a joke. That’s the old standard.”

Reynoso also said that the rates for affordable housing units should be adjusted to better fit Astoria residents, which Constantinides has also previously said.

The team of representatives for 2030 Astoria Developers, the group behind the project, couldn’t answer Reynoso’s question about the average income of residents in Community Board 1, who will have preference to the affordable housing units.

“You guys said that you’ve been working with the community for four years, working very closely with the entire community for four years and you can’t tell me how much Astoria residents make in a year,” Reynoso said. “That’s not four years of work.”

Reynoso also asked how the size of the units in the affordable housing sections compare with the size of Astoria families, many of which need two- or three-bedroom apartments. Again, the representatives couldn’t respond.

“When one master-plans the development, especially of this size, one never plans the unit-mix breakdown at this stage,” a representative said at the hearing. “It’s never part of the planning process.”

Reynoso said he will not vote for the project’s current proposal, and said, “There is no chance this is going to move through.”

Numerous affordable housing supporters in the audience waved their hands whenever increasing the ratio of low-income units was mentioned.

Advocates in support of union jobs and residents from other properties of Alma Realty, which is involved in the project, were also at the meeting to speak out against the firm.

Among those speaking in favor of the project was Jack Friedman, the executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

“The Queens Chamber of Commerce believes this project is and will be a great addition for our borough and for Astoria,” Friedman said. “We wholeheartedly endorse and support the project and the many advantages it will present for the local community for generations to come.”

Despite the level of opposition to the current proposal of the project, the City Planning Commission gave its approval last month. Constantinides has pledged to get more affordable housing before the City Council votes.

“As the process moves toward our November vote, we will work with the developer to provide ample affordable housing, good jobs both during and after the construction process, and dramatically increase public transportation options on and off of the peninsula,” he said.

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Thousands relive past World’s Fairs at anniversary festival, call for third Fair


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre


It wasn’t quite a third New York World’s Fair, but Sunday’s anniversary festival left that impression.

Thousands flocked to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the site of the 1939-40 and 1964-65 World’s Fairs, to honor the 75th and 50th anniversaries through a myriad of free activities, exhibitions and various food, sponsored by the Queens borough president’s office and the Parks Department.

People mostly from around the city, Tri-State area and Long Island came to relive the memory of the World’s Fair and pass along that feeling to the next generation.

“For me, just to come back and pay respects 50 years later is [great],” said Carlos Rios, a Harlem native who attended the 1964-65 World’s Fair. “It’s deja-vu.”

Surrounding the iconic Unisphere, there were inflatable rides for children, international food courtesy of LIC Flea & Food, free tours, exhibitions from Queens educational institutions, memorabilia from past Fairs, and music from various bands— including Beatles tribute band, the Liverpool Shuffle.

Despite the festivities, the celebration just didn’t compare to an actual World’s Fair, some said.

“This is not a World’s Fair, this is just a reunion-type thing,” Marc Cutler, a Brooklyn resident who collects World’s Fair memorabilia said. “There’s no comparison.”

But the festival triggered so many memories of the Fair, some people are now calling for a third fair, and politicians are already on board.

“We need conservation, preservation, and more economic development [in Queens], and I think a World’s Fair would do all of that wrapped up in one,” Public Advocate Letitia James said.

Many watched and listened as the band Raices and others performed in front of the Unisphere. 

Learning the history of the World’s Fair is great, but for kids, bouncy houses are also fun.  

International food vendors, such as Koso’s Korean cuisine, were available at the festival courtesy of LIC Flea & Food. 

AT&T unveiled charging stations— a must-have in modern times. 

A festival isn’t a festival without classic cars. 

An original Batmobile from the Batman TV series in the mid-1960s. It was not part of the 1964-65 World’s Fair, but Autoseum added it to the classic cars selection because it is a fan favorite. 

New York State Pavilion advocates were around to give tours and information on the structure as well as ask people to sign petitions to save it. 

 

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UPS workers rally in Maspeth to save 250 drivers’ jobs


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Follow me @liamlaguerre

 

Elected officials and UPS workers held a rally in front of the company’s Maspeth distribution center Friday to save the jobs of 250 drivers—more than half the fleet—who were recently handed termination slips.

The cuts were made after workers for the parcel delivery service held a rally—while on the job—on February 26. The first demonstration protested the firing of Jairo Reyes, a UPS employee of 24 years. UPS showed Reyes no love on Valentine’s Day, when he was fired, escorted out of the facility, and had his employee card taken away.

“That was my Valentine’s Day gift from UPS,” said Reyes, who is married with two children.

Teamsters Local 804, which represents the workers, said Reyes should have had a hearing and meeting with his business agent before getting the hook.

Reyes filed a grievance with two co-workers before he was fired, arguing that junior workers were allowed to start earlier than their seniors, but the employee contract states earlier start times are based on seniority, Reyes said. He was fired officially for “admitted dishonesty” because he started his shifts earlier. But Reyes said a manager verbally okayed his punching-in early, starting from Jan. 6.

“They took a grievance with one employee and turned it into notices of termination with 250 workers,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer. “That’s outrageous. These are good, hardworking employees who have a contract for UPS. To try and break this contract, break this union, is something that is unacceptable and we can’t tolerate.”

The company and the union were in ongoing talks about Reyes’ and other workers’ grievances, but negotiations broke down recently. Then UPS decided to ax the 250 workers for “illegal and unauthorized work stoppage,” following the initial rally.

“UPS takes its commitments to its customers very seriously, and must take action to ensure unauthorized employee actions resulting in refusal to work, does not prevent the company from meeting its service and delivery commitments,” the company said in a statement.

Union representatives and Public Advocate Letitia James passed along a petition with more than 100,000 signatures after the demonstration on March 21, to get the company to negotiate a settlement.

Reyes hopes to at least get his job back.

“I’ve dedicated my years to the company, my passion, my life. That would be good to have my job back,” he said. “I have a family to support.”

 

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Groundhogs see shadows, predict six more weeks of winter


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYC Mayor's Office's Flickr

Get ready to bundle up because winter is here to stay, according to the nation’s two most famous groundhogs.

Both Charles G. Hogg, also known as “Staten Island Chuck,” and Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil saw their shadows Sunday morning predicting six more weeks of cold weather.

Photo courtesy of Punxsutawney Phil’s Facebook Page

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James celebrated in Staten Island for the city’s Groundhog Day celebrations.

De Blasio did not get a warm response from the audience when he said Staten Island Chuck “likes the polar vortex” after the prediction was made.

He also did not receive a friendly response from Chuck, who de Blasio dropped as he was trying to hold him during the ceremony.

It wasn’t the first time the groundhog had an awkward encounter with a New York City mayor. In 2009, he bit then-mayor Michael Bloomberg’s finger.

 

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Queens Borough President Melinda Katz sworn in by Mayor de Blasio


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Mike DiBartolomeo

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz was officially sworn into office Thursday in a star-studded political gathering.

“It’s an exciting time for me,” said Katz, in front of hundreds of supporters and a lengthy list of dignitaries. “I’m humbled and I’m honored to be the Queens Borough President.”

The 48-year-old Forest Hills mom of two was installed Jan. 9 by Mayor Bill de Blasio, with the help of Congressmember Joe Crowley.

“I have to tell you that Melinda brings so much to this job,” de Blasio said. “She has a real passion for the people she serves. She loves this borough. I can tell you that because I’ve seen her stand up for Queens many times.”

The mayor said the “exemplary” and diverse borough “epitomizes the American Dream.”

“Melinda Katz gets to be the person who brings all those beautiful strengths together and makes this borough work for the people,” de Blasio said.

The newly elected borough president, dedicating the night to her parents, took her oath of office with her hand upon her father’s copy of the Old Testament.

Crowley, citing Biblical figures, said he hoped for Katz “the wisdom of Moses, the leadership of Joshua and the valor and the strength of Esther.”

“She possesses many of those qualities and more,” Crowley said. “We’re going to have the opportunity to see her grow.”

The standing-room-only ceremony at Queens College’s Lefrak Concert Hall also featured U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and dozens of Queens legislators.

Katz’s partner, Curtis Sliwa, and the couple’s two sons, Carter and Hunter, watched from the audience.

Katz, a former member of the City Council and state Assembly, was elected Nov. 5 to be the 19th borough president of Queens. She succeeds Helen Marshall, who held the seat since 2001.

Her plans for the borough include making the Rockaway ferry permanent and pushing for more primary and urgent care facilities.

“Let’s move it forward,” Katz said. “Let’s make it a place for families to have everything they need right here in the borough of Queens.”

“My only wish is I never let you down,” Katz said.

 

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