What’s News, Breaking: Friday, July 7, 2023
SUNY DOWNSTATE’S STAR PROGRAM RECEIVES GRANT
FOR PARTNERSHIP WITH POLAND AND UKRAINE
EAST FLATBUSH — SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University’s Special Treatment and Research (STAR) Program received a $1.5 million grant from the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) global health arm, the Fogarty International Center, to fund a Ukraine HIV Research Training Program amid Ukraine’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. SUNY Downstate representatives joined health leaders from Ukraine, Poland, and Georgia, to formally kick off the program in Warsaw. The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine — with its devastating humanitarian consequences — highlights an existing uphill battle against the spread of HIV, as the treatment centers and essential infrastructure have been damaged. For years, Ukraine has reported the second-highest HIV incidence rate in Europe, with approximately 13,000 Ukrainians infected with HIV each year.
The newly funded research training program is a joint effort of the Ukrainian Institute of Public Health Policy and the New York State International Training and Research Program, the latter of which has been working in Ukraine since 2010 to address gaps in the HIV care continuum and substance use treatment system in Ukraine.
STATE SUPREME COURT JUDGE GRANTS PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION AGAINST CITY’S MEDICARE PLAN SWITCH
CITYWIDE — A coalition of municipal retirees who have been fighting to keep their traditional public Medicare benefits won a victory late Friday from the State Supreme Court of New York County. Justice Lyle E. Frank on Friday, July 7, granted a preliminary injunction stopping the City from forcing a quarter-million elderly and disabled retirees off their longstanding Medicare insurance that the New York City Administrative Code section 12-126 stipulates must be paid in full for city employees (through another public health plan), city retirees and their dependents. Unlike Medicare — a public program that has protected City retirees for the past 57 years — the City’s new Aetna Medicare Advantage plan is a private, for-profit endeavor, and the plaintiffs fear that would limit retirees’ access to their medical providers, prevent retirees from receiving care prescribed by their doctors unless Aetna deemed it “medically necessary,” and expose retirees to increased healthcare costs.
Judge Frank indicated in the Decision and Order on Motion that the retirees “have shown by clear and convincing evidence” that implementation of the new Aetna Medicare Advantage plan would likely violate their rights in numerous ways. Justice Frank also ruled that “should this plan go forward, irreparable harm would result” to countless retirees.
CITY OFFICIALS DEFEND LAW PROTECTING DELIVERISTAS,
CITING WEATHER AND OTHER HAZARDS
CITYWIDE — Two city officials have defended the new minimum wage law for delivery workers, in the wake of lawsuits filed on July 6 to repeal it. Vilda Vera Mayuga, the commissioner of New York City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, defended the wage standard in a prepared statement that she distributed. “Delivery workers, like all workers, deserve fair pay for their labor, and we are disappointed that Uber, DoorDash, Grubhub and Relay disagree,” she said. “These workers brave thunderstorms, extreme heat events and risk their lives to deliver for New Yorkers — and we remain committed to delivering for them.” Likewise, City Comptroller pointed out, “Gig companies have sued New York City repeatedly: to block accessibility requirements for people-with-disabilities, to reduce cruising time, and to prevent the minimum pay requirement for for-hire drivers that became law in 2019. But New York City’s for-hire driver minimum pay law benefits drivers without harming ridership, and the delivery-worker minimum pay law will work just as well.”
Delivery workers have complained that the app-based companies have not compensated them well, but those companies point out the advantage of flexible schedules and that they are technically freelancers.
APP-BASED FOOD DELIVERY COMPANIES
CONTEST CITY’S NEW MINIMUM WAGE LAW
CITYWIDE — Uber Technologies Inc., DoorDash Inc., GrubHub and other app-based food delivery companies filed lawsuits aiming for a repeal of New York City’s new law that set a minimum wage for drivers, according to the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story, and several other news outlets. The companies, which filed separate complaints (with GrubHub joining DoorDash’s suit) in New York state court on Thursday, July 6, assert that the law was based on a misunderstanding of the food delivery industry. The gig companies claim that they will be compelled to pass on the cost of the higher wages to consumers and restaurants by raising prices and that the city’s calculations are based on an incorrect model.
The law, which takes effect next week, will require that drivers be paid $17.96 an hour, which will rise to nearly $20 in April 2025, with gig companies deciding whether to pay drivers hourly or per delivery.
POP-UP RAINBOW HOUSES ON MONTAGUE STREET
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Montague Street’s Open Streets program this weekend is featuring a collaborative art project suitable for little hands — the opportunity to create a colorful village of singing houses in the middle of the street. The project will be guided by art teachers from Le Meraviglie Art Studio and is expected to be messy; other kid-friendly returning favorites include the pop-up giant flower park and free chicken meals for ages 1 to 10 at Mad for Chicken, along with fun and games offered by the Montague Street BID.
The village creation project will run from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 8, while Open Streets runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
NEW PRATT-AFFILIATED HIGH SCHOOL TO FOCUS ON DESIGN, SOCIAL JUSTICE
DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — A new high school affiliated with the Pratt Institute is set to open this fall in downtown Brooklyn, reports Chalkbeat, offering a curriculum focused on the arts and design, as well as with a focus on social justice and social equity. Students will choose from one of three specialties — housing equity, tech equity and design equity — and will spend time in their courses working on creative solutions to problems within those spheres, ultimately preparing for careers in urban planning and software and interior design; the school is also planning to partner with other Brooklyn arts institutions, such as BAM, to offer further artistic programming for their students.
“When CUNY is holding a big talk about water, and how safe water is an equity issue, we want our young people to not just be invited to come to see the talk but to be able to go toe-to-toe with those experts,” the school’s project coordinator Corinth Hunter told Chalkbeat; the school already has a waitlist over 200 students long.
SUNY DOWNSTATE AMONG THREE MEDICAL SCHOOLS TO RECEIVE CANCER INSTITUTE FUNDING
EAST FLATBUSH — SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University in Central Brooklyn, Weill Cornell Medicine, and Columbia University — in a collaborative effort — were among five entities nationwide to receive a $9.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to target disparities in specifically-identified communities, as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s Cancer Moonshot priorities. The five-year grant will spearhead two projects focused on multigenerational cancer awareness, prevention and control, follow-up care, survivorship, and closing health equity gaps among Black/African American, Caribbean American, and Hispanic communities in North-Central Brooklyn, Washington Heights, Western Queens, and the South Bronx.
The first project will examine the impact of a six-week cancer education and social justice curriculum engaging students in ten New York City public schools. The second project will focus on a tobacco cessation trial using federally qualified health centers.
SPACE POTATOES AT FUTURISTIC ART EXHIBIT OPENING IN RED HOOK
RED HOOK — A new exhibit by multimedia artist Xin Liu, Seedlings and Offsprings, is opening at Pioneer Works in Red Hook this Friday, with works exploring themes of futurism, mutation, and immortality. Highlights include a series of frost-covered sculptures inspired by cryonics and egg freezing technologies, as well as the search for life in Antarctic lakes and icy moons; a multi-part visual project that juxtaposes a recorded dance performance by the artist on a zero-gravity plane flight with a virtual reality experience starring a crystalline robot carrying the artist’s wisdom tooth on a journey to the International Space Station; and, a collaboration with fellow artist Lucia Monge, where potatoes grown from seeds sent into Earth’s lower orbit are cast as subjects that call for a diversified imagination of what the future and space exploration can look like — and, a selection of these spacefaring potatoes will be grown and harvested in Pioneer Works’s garden.
Seedlings and Offsprings will be on display from July 7 to Sept. 10 at Pioneer Works in Red Hook.
SOUL SUMMIT MUSIC FESTIVAL RETURNS TO FORT GREENE PARK
FORT GREENE — The beloved Soul Summit music festival is returning to Fort Greene Park this weekend, offering up a program of soulful house music for attendees all summer long at the Sunday concert series. Begun by DJ Sadiq Bellamy in 2002 as a callback to the free-spirited music culture of NYC in the ‘70s, the Soul Summit DJ collective have spun tunes for park-goers for more than 20 years, celebrating Fort Greene’s Black renaissance and bringing the community together.
Soul Summit will take place on Sunday, July 9, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.; a documentary on the festival, ‘Soul Summit: Doin’ It in the Park,’ was produced by Black-Owned Brooklyn in 2020 during the pandemic when the festival was put on hold, and can be viewed on YouTube.
PARK SLOPE BARNES AND NOBLE VOTES TO UNIONIZE
PARK SLOPE — Employees at the Park Slope location of bookstore giant Barnes & Noble voted overwhelmingly to unionize on June 29, following a vote by the store’s flagship Manhattan location to do the same, and will now be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, reports Publisher’s Weekly. The store workers say that they struggle with low pay and poor working conditions, such as unstable scheduling practices, harassment and favoritism, and will demand action from management during contract negotiations later this year.
The store’s unionization is part of a recent surge in labor organization; union organizers have achieved successes at Amazon’s NYC area warehouses and the city’s powerful nurses’ union went on strike last winter in protest of poor working conditions, while UPS workers are threatening to stop work later this year if their own contract demands are not met.
ASSEMBLYMAN VISITS SETH LOW PARK, PRAISES ATTENDANT’S CLEANUP EFFORTS
BENSONHURST — Responding to cleanliness complaints from locals, Assemblymember William Colton (D-47) visited Seth Low Park in Bensonhurst on Wednesday July 5, and found that the park is the cleanest he has seen in some time. Praising the Parks Department attendant, Mr. Henry, Colton declared, “The good news is that the park was at its cleanest. Many seniors approached us and were very grateful for the park’s condition. The only complaint I heard from the constituents is that they wish that bathrooms would stay open longer hours.” Colton pledged that his office will follow up on that request.
Seth Low Park in Bensonhurst, which was named for a prominent citizen who was mayor of Brooklyn 1881-85, as well as of Columbia University, is on a strategically-situated triangle at the intersections of several roads: Bay Parkway, Bay Ridge Parkway (75th St.), Avenue P, Stillwell Avenue and West 12th St.
POLICE OFFICERS RESCUE MAN FROM SUBWAY TRACKS
BED-STUY — Two police officers saved a man who had fallen onto the subway tracks at the Utica Avenue A train station on Wednesday, reports Fox News, after the man suffered a medical episode and collapsed off the platform. Video from a body camera released by the NYPD shows the officers jumping onto the tracks and lifting the unresponsive man back onto the platform with the aid of other passengers.
There were no further updates on the man’s condition; the camera footage showed that he appeared to have been using a cane.
FORMER BUILDING SUPER SENTENCED TO 27 YEARS FOR MURDERING HIS REPLACEMENT
DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — A Bushwick man has been sentenced to 27 years to life in prison for a 2017 murder in which he fatally strangled a building superintendent in Bushwick who had been hired to replace him and who would have been given the super’s apartment. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez identified the defendant as Keith Floyd, 44, at whose sentencing Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Ziomaida Tomlinson presided. A jury had convicted Floyd in February of second-degree murder, first-degree hindering prosecution, and concealment of a human corpse.
On Oct. 5, 2017, the New York City Police Department received an anonymous tip that there was a dead body buried in the backyard at 54 Himrod Street. The next day, detectives found Rivera’s body, wrapped in plastic trash bags and buried in a shallow grave. The NYC Medical Examiner ruled from an autopsy that the cause of death was homicidal asphyxia.
DEPT OF PLANNING TO HOST INFO SESSION ON ‘CITY OF YES’ INITIATIVE
CITYWIDE — Department of City Planning Director Dan Garodnick on Wednesday announced a public information session on Mayor Adams’ City of Yes for Economic Opportunity proposal, which is a set of zoning changes designed to develop lively commercial corridors, help small businesses and support economic recovery from the pandemic. The proposal, which will be considered during a formal public review process this fall, involves 18 reforms, focused on making it easier to start or expand businesses and on reducing storefront vacancies; examples include removing zoning restrictions that limit dancing in certain commercial areas, facilitating the growth of the life sciences sector, allowing for clean manufacturing — for industries such as ceramics makers or coffee roasteries — in commercial areas, and removing restrictions on building corner stores.
This info session will take place via Zoom on Tuesday, July 11, at 7 p.m.; New Yorkers can register online to attend and ask questions.
COMPTROLLER LANDER: CITY’S EMERGENCY PROCUREMENT WAS BOTH SUCCESSFUL AND WASTEFUL
CITYWIDE — A new audit from City Comptroller Brad Lander’s office reveals that while New York has dealt well with multiple emergencies including COVID and the refugee influx, there is room for improvement, particularly in curbing wasteful spending. While acknowledging that “emergency procurement” — an expedited purchase method that eliminates the bidding process — is a critical city procedure, Lander recognized a paradox: the same actions that resulted in successfully establishing testing and vaccination services in communities most affected by COVID-19 involved wasteful spending and a lack of effective cost controls in the City’s emergency contracting.
Moving forward, Comptroller Lander’s office sent letters to city agencies recommending “5 Best Practices” to deal with future emergencies. These include maximizing competition to the extent possible, ensuring strong, specific and clear contract terms, establishing a “robust” compliance and enforcement oversight, holding vendors accountable, and documenting expenditures.
LABOR LAW STRENGTHENED TO RESTRICT MANDATORY OVERTIME FOR NURSES
STATEWIDE — Updates to the Labor Law restricting mandatory overtime for nurses have now taken effect, the NYS Department of Labor announced on Thursday, July 6. The updated law prohibits health care employers from requiring nurses to work more than their regularly scheduled hours except under limited circumstances, including a health care disaster, a declaration of emergency, or when required for safe patient care such as during an unforeseen emergency. A health care employer must notify NYSDOL when exceptions to limitations on mandatory overtime are in use, with additional reporting required to NYSDOL and the Department of Health when exceptions are in use for 15 days or more in a given month, and 45 days or more in a consecutive three-month period.
The updated law also establishes new monetary penalties for violations and expands coverage to include nurses employed by facilities licensed or operated by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, among other provisions. Overseeing the compliance as Enforcement Officer will be Jeanette Lazelle, Deputy Commissioner for Worker Protection.
PORTABLE BATTERY CHARGER PACKS RECALLED AFTER A UNIT CAUGHT FIRE ABOARD PLANE
NATIONWIDE — Amazon customers in Brooklyn and around the U.S. are alerted of a recall for a model of portable chargers that caused a fire on a commercial aircraft, although none of the news reports breaking this story mentioned the airline involved as of press time. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recall involves about 190,000 VRURC portable chargers that are shaped like cell phones and that were sold exclusively via Amazon from July 2021 through this past May, bearing the model number “OD-B7,” and with built-in cables and built-in wall plug. The model number is on the back of the recalled chargers, which were sold in black, blue, green, orange, pink, red and white color options. Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled portable chargers and contact VRURC for a free replacement product.
VRURC has received one report of fire during a commercial flight, causing four flight attendants to be hospitalized due to smoke inhalation. According to both aviationdisasterlaw.com and Consumer Reports, this week’s charger fire was not the first to erupt on airplanes. A similar incident happened in February aboard a United Airlines flight.
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