Héctor Figueroa, the powerful head of 32BJ SEIU, died unexpectedly Thursday night, sources told The Real Deal. He was 57 years old.
As president of 32BJ SEIU, Figueroa guided policy positions of the country’s largest building services union, which numbers over 175,000 members. Figueroa has headed the union since 2012 and is credited with growing its ranks by more than 50,000 members.
“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,” the union said in a statement. “He consistently joined together a clear vision about the empowerment of working people with compassion and energy.”
Born in Puerto Rico, he came to the city in 1982, staying with an aunt and uncle in the Bronx, according to the union’s website. Having served as SEIU Organizing Director for Puerto Rico, he continued his union activism with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (now known as Workers United) in 1990. He found his way back to SEUI in 1995, when he joined its Justice for Janitors campaign.
During his tenure, Figueroa advocated for immigrant reform and increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. In 2017, the union quietly secured a deal with the city that guaranteed that building service workers would be paid prevailing wages in affordable-housing buildings with 30-plus units in newly rezoned neighborhoods, Crain’s reported. 32 BJ SEIU recently advocated for Amazon opening a new headquarters in Long Island City, putting it at odds with some of the city’s other unions. It also recently sided with the real estate industry in the unsuccessful fight over the new rent law. Last month, Figueroa took to Twitter to explain his organization’s stance on proposed changes.
“We want to make sure reform is done well. Somewhere between what tenant advocates say & landlords say is where what works is,” he tweeted. “We don’t know yet what it looks like & will follow this as closely as we can. So far only landlords have talked about workers.”
Public officials released statements and took to social media to mourn Figueroa’s passing.
“Héctor embodied that 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 or taxi drivers as you would with the custodians, service workers and doormen he represented,” Mayor Bill de Blasio, a longtime ally of the union, said in a statement. “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.”
— Diana C. Richardson (@Vote_Richardson) July 12, 2019
Figueroa is survived by his wife, Deirdre, and his children Eric and Elena.