Union members, activists, friends and family of Héctor Figueroa will gather July 24 at Riverside Church in Harlem to celebrate his life and lasting impact on labor, immigrant justice and social justice movements in the United States.
The Jackson Heights resident, and president of 32BJ SEIU, died suddenly of a heart attack on July 11. He was 57 and is survived by his wife Diedre, and his children Eric and Elena.
Under the union’s constitution, Executive Vice President Kyle Bragg automatically assumed leadership of 32BJ as its new president representing more than 175,000 property service workers including window cleaners, airport workers, superintendents, doormen, maintenance workers, cleaners, porters and security officers in 11 states.
“We have lost a brother, a beautiful mind, an irreplaceable union leader and a real fighter for justice,” Bragg said. “Héctor believed in 32BJ and planted many seeds during his tenure that have now blossomed into the powerful work that the union will continue in his legacy. Today we mourn our leader but we continue standing strong to fight for our shared vision for a more just society.”
Bragg, a member of 32BJ for more than three decades who lives in Rosedale with his wife and three children, added that under Figueroa’s presidency, 32BJ grew by more than 50,000 members and passed dozens of local and state policies protecting and lifting working families into the middle class up and down the East Coast at a time when the labor movement across the country has been in decline.
“It is impossible to overstate the loss of Héctor to our SEIU family. Héctor has made a lasting impact on the heart and soul of our union, and he will be sorely missed,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said. “Héctor’s leadership made it possible for janitors, doormen and women, security officers, airport workers and so many other working people across the U.S. and Puerto Rico to join together and lift up their wages and improve their jobs.”
The union released a passage from a posthumous op-ed Figueroa wrote for The New York Times entitled, “The Labor Movement Can Rise Again,” which captured his personal and principled concern for working people.
“It’s not too late to rebuild our movement,” Figueroa wrote. “If labor wants to have a real impact, our movement needs a big and ambitious plan to organize it. It is heartbreaking to witness our movement risk near-irrelevance when workers are ready to take action.”
In the aftermath of his death, tributes to Figueroa poured in from Democratic Presidential candidates, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and dozens of local and state elected officials. State Senator James Sanders, who represents the communities that surround JFK International Airport, might have summed up Figueroa’s legacy best.
“Héctor Figueroa was the embodiment of a compassionate leader. A true hero and a champion for millions of Americans in this great country,” Sanders Jr. said. “He fought for fair pay, good benefits, and safer working conditions for union members; many of which were in my district. What made Héctor special was his willingness to work on issues outside his union. Not only did he stand up for all of his union brothers and sisters, he worked tirelessly for the working class. Héctor genuinely cared for all working people.”
At the request of his family and in lieu of flowers, all are encouraged to donate in Figeuroa’s name to two causes he deeply cared about, The Sunrise Movement, a youth climate change organization, and United We Dream, an immigration advocacy group.
The Riverside Church memorial will begin at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, July 24. The union says it will honor Figueroa by carrying on his legacy.