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Queens Chronicle

New York mourns 32BJ SEIU president

Figueroa, of Jackson Heights, died of a heart attack last week at 57

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Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2019 10:30 am

Héctor Figueroa of Jackson Heights, president of the powerful 32BJ SEIU property services union, died of a heart attack last Thursday night. He was 57.

Born into a union family in Puerto Rico, he moved to the Bronx in 1982 and studied economics on a grant. He first became involved in SEIU in 1995, working for its Justice for Janitors initiative and then serving as the union’s director for Puerto Rico.

In 2012, he was elected president of 32BJ SEIU. The largest property services union in the country, it represents more than 175,000 workers, 70,000 of whom are in the New York City area. Its members are airport workers, porters, cleaners, maintenance workers, security officers, window cleaners, doormen and superintendents.

Figueroa is survived by his wife, Deirdre, and two children, Eric and Elena.

New York leaders issued statements in response to his surprise passing.

“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,” Gov. Cuomo said. “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.”

“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,” Mayor de Blasio said.

In recent months, Figueroa had been a major advocate for New York letting undocumented immigrants apply for driver’s licenses, a policy the state Legislature passed in June.

He was a forceful critic of the Trump administration, especially its aggressive U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies and its widely criticized response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

He had staunchly advocated for Amazon’s controversial HQ2 proposal for Long Island City, which the company dropped amid intense criticism from area activists and residents. Figueroa was disappointed by the plan’s cancellation, lamenting the jobs that it would have created and the opportunity it would have presented to organize workers at the e-commerce behemoth, which has consistently opposed its employees’ unionization attempts.

Figueroa successfully fought to get the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to raise the minimum wage to $19 an hour by 2023 for workers at LaGuardia, JFK and Newark airports.

“We are utterly devastated by the news of the passing of Héctor Figueroa, who has been a lion in our movement,” Make the Road New York Co-executive Director Javier Valdes said in a statement. “He has been a steadfast ally of community organizations like ours, and he has doggedly pursued justice for all New Yorkers.”

In accordance with the union’s constitution, 32BJ SEIU Vice President Kyle Bragg will take over the late president’s responsibilities.

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