By David Brand
Héctor Figueroa, the president of 32BJ Services Employees International Union and a Jackson Heights resident, died Friday. He was 57.
Figueroa was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York City in 1982. He participated in the labor movement throughout the 1990s and rose through the ranks of 32BJ before being elected president of the 163,000-member union in 2012.
“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,” 32BJ said in a statement. “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.”
A union spokesperson said he died of a heart attack.
Several local leaders recalled Figueroa as one of New York City’s most influential and visible labor leaders.
“Hector Figueroa was a giant in New York State and served as a national leader for millions of Americans,” said State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “As President of 32BJ SEIU, Hector was on the front lines in the fight for fair pay, good benefits and safe working conditions for his union brothers and sisters and for all hardworking Americans.”
Figueroa advocated for a $15 minimum wage for all workers and helped passed union laws to protect immigrants from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrest and detention.
Councilmember Costa Constantinides remembered Figueroa as “a proud resident of western Queens.”
“Héctor was instrumental in getting a fair minimum wage for fast food workers in New York state, because he believed all workers should get the pay they deserve. New York City is a better, fairer place thanks to Héctor’s service,” Constantinides said. May he rest in peace.”
Various lawmakers expressed their condolences on Twitter.
“Héctor Figueroa was a great man, a brilliant economist, and a fierce fighter for every union member,” tweeted State. Sen Jessica Ramos, chair of the Senate’s Labor Committee.
“Hector dedicated his life to championing labor rights for all New Yorkers,” added Assemblymember Aravella Simotas.
“Hector was a giant for justice. Deeply dedicated to his members & their leadership. To building coalitions. To smart issue & electoral campaigns to build power,” Councilmember Brad Lander tweeted. “And a mensch & friend, too.”
Figueroa is survived by his wife Deidre, and his children, Eric and Elena.