One of the city’s most powerful labor leaders died Thursday night. Héctor Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU and resident of Jackson Heights, suffered a heart attack. He was 57.
“It is with overwhelming sadness and a heavy heart that 32BJ mourns the unexpected passing of union president Héctor Figueroa last night in New York. For those of us who have worked with him to further the well-being of our members and working people everywhere, and felt his personal and principled concern for our members, our staff and others this is a devastating loss,” 32BJ said in a statement. “In his many years of service to our union, to the labor movement, and to our communities, he consistently joined together a clear vision about the empowerment of working people with compassion and energy. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Deidre, his children Eric and Elena, and the rest of his family, as well as to all those in our 32BJ family and beyond who forged strong bonds of camaraderie with Héctor over the years. Details about memorial plans will be forthcoming.”
With nearly 163,000 members in 11 states, 32BJ is the largest property service union in the country representing doormen, window cleaners, superintendents and maintenance workers, cleaners, posters and security guard.
Figueroa, who was elected president in 2012, was at the forefront of the airport worker’s years-long campaign leading rallies, marches, sit-ins and strikes for fair wages and benefits. He was a key figure in the borough’s battle for immigrant rights and he was a supporter of Amazon’s planned HQ2 campus in Long Island City with its promise of 25,000 jobs.
“It’s impossible to put into words what Héctor meant to the men and women of 32BJ SEIU, to working people and to the labor movement. He bound us all together. His was always a voice on empathy, of conviction, of principle,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “Héctor embodied the word ‘solidarity.’ His love of 32BJ SEIU ran deep, but you’d be just as likely to see him on the picket line with fast food workers and taxi drivers as you would with the custodians, service workers and doormen he represented. He fought just as doggedly for relief for people in Puerto Rico as he did for fair contracts here in New York City. If you were fighting for human dignity, then Héctor fought for you.”
Figueroa was born into the labor movement in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where his parents were teachers. He moved to the United States in 1982 after participating in a student strike.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was heartbroken, calling Figueroa a “towering figure in politics and a hero of the labor community” who did untold good for working people of the state and the nation.
“Héctor was a champion for working people, minorities, the poor, the voiceless,” Cuomo said. “Together with Héctor, we enacted New York’s nation-leading $15 minimum wage – first for fast food workers and then for all workers – and the historic $19 minimum wage for airport workers just last year. Héctor fought for and won fairer contracts for his 163,000 members, ensuring working women and men have the protections they need at a time when hard-earned labor rights are under attack on the national level. Héctor was an indefatigable force in our fight against Trump’s un-American assault on immigrant communities and a fierce defender of Puerto Rico. Sí, se puede my friend.”
Attorney General Letitia James called Figueroa a giant, a true fighter and hero of the people.
“Beyond his work to move our state and our country forward, Héctor was a true friend to all who knew him,” James said. “Deeply respected, kind, and compassionate, Héctor was a man of great integrity. My deepest condolences to his family, friends, and all of 32BJ. New York is a little darker today.”
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz called Figueroa a true champion of the rights of workers in the city and the country.
“A lion of the labor movement, he was humble, yet unapologetic when it came to fairness, justice and dignity,” Katz said. “His impact on generations of working families in Queens and around the nation it truly immeasurable.”