Héctor Figueroa, President of 32BJ SEIU, Dies at 57
Héctor Figueroa, the president of the powerful property service workers union 32BJ SEIU, died last night at 57, the union announced today. The New York Daily News reported his death was caused by a heart attack.
Figueroa has led the union—which has more than 163,000 members—since 2012 and was an influential figure in New York politics. He was credited with helping to get the state’s minimum wage raised to $15 an hour and New York airport workers’ pay increased to $19 an hour.
“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 concerns for our members, our staff, and others, this is a devastating loss,” the union 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.”
In recent years, Figueroa became known for his active Twitter presence where he took to the social media platform to explain 32BJ’s decision-making process to members, spar with critics and outline its support of policy decisions, the Gotham Gazette reported.
“As a labor leader, I see it as my responsibility to demystify the union movement and be as accessible to members and the larger community as I can,” Figueroa told the Gotham Gazette earlier this year. “Social media offers us a very effective way to communicate with a broader audience and build our collective power.”
Figueroa was born in Puerto Rico to a pair of teachers and came to the United States in 1982, according to 32BJ. He lived with his aunt and uncle in the Bronx and completed an economics degree with a grant.
He started his career with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union in 1990 and joined 32BJ in 1995, eventually becoming the director for Puerto Rico, the union said.
Lawmakers took to Twitter and sent statements Friday afternoon mourning Figueroa’s death, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo calling him “a towering figure in politics and a hero of the labor community.”
“Héctor was a champion for working people, minorities, the poor, the voiceless,” Cuomo said in a statement. “[He] was an indefatigable force in our fight against Trump’s un-American assault on immigrant communities and a fierce defender of Puerto Rico.”
Figueroa, who lived in Jackson Heights, Queens, is survived by his wife, Deidre, and his two children, Eric and Elena.
“Héctor Figueroa embodied the word solidarity,” Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote on Twitter this afternoon. “His was always the voice of empathy, of conviction, of principle.”