Kyle Bragg

Kyle Bragg


Kyle Bragg

President at 32BJ SEIU

Kyle Bragg
By and May 16, 2022 9:00 AM

Last summer Kyle Bragg was contemplating retirement, having worked with the Service Employees International Union for more than 35 years. But the sudden death of the union’s beloved president, Hector Figueroa, on July 11 made Bragg reconsider.

“It’s been a year since this past Saturday, and it was very emotional thinking about the loss of my brother,” Bragg told CO earlier this month. “Working with Hector side-by-side for about 20 years, the closeness of the organization and our leaders, I think in a lot of ways prepared me for that tragic moment.”

Bragg continued Figueroa’s mission to lift working people out of poverty and instill fairness in the industries of the 175,000 workers who are members of the SEIU. Part of that task was negotiating soon-to-expire contracts for commercial cleaning workers last December and security guards in public and private buildings by April. And union leaders were gearing up for the most contentious election cycle in a generation after rolling out endorsements in February for dozens of congressional and state legislative primaries.

But the coronavirus pandemic’s arrival upended the labor movement’s priorities along with everyone else’s.

Labor leaders worked to install protocols in workplaces to ensure members could stay safe and healthy when interacting with the public, had enough personal protection equipment, and access to health care when they needed it.

“Our first reaction was how do we protect our members in this pandemic. We have members who are essential workers, and our first course of action is to make sure workers were protected on the job,” Bragg said.

The swift spread of the virus also prompted whole sectors of the economy to sputter and governments to close offices and schools, resulting in hundreds of thousands of layoffs. Nearly 13 percent of the 32BJ’s membership, or 28,611 workers, lost their jobs since the shutdown occurred. In New York, there were 6,252 commercial cleaner layoffs, 2,546 layoffs among airport workers at JFK and LaGuardia airports, 1,598 security officer layoffs, and 97 layoffs in residential buildings, according to union officials.

As the region remained in a prolonged shutdown, advocates demanded police reforms following the killing of George Floyd. Bragg’s union members demonstrated with new allies and led calls to dismantle systemic racism in law enforcement.

“Having to lead in the moment when we’re dealing with two major crises in the moment is pretty unique in my lifetime,” Bragg said. “I have been able to meet the challenge because of the strength of the union and our membership.”—A.S.

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