City and state leaders paid respects to Hector Figueroa, the president of Service Employees International Union’s 32BJ, who died of a heart attack last week at 57.
“It is impossible to overstate the loss of Hector to our SEIU family,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the overall union, in a statement. “Hector has made a lasting impact on the heart and soul of our union, and he will be sorely missed.
“Hector’s leadership made it possible for janitors, doormen (and women), security officers, airport workers and so many other working people across the U.S., and Puerto Rico to join together and lift up their wages and improve their jobs.”
State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi said she was “heartbroken and beyond devasted” to learn about Figueroa’s death.
“Hector was a New York titan whose legacy is difficult to capture in words,” Biaggi said, in a statement. “He fearlessly and willingly stood up to anyone who stood in the way of true progress and change. Hector was a dear friend, a fighter, a leader for millions of working Americans, a giant in the progressive movement, and most importantly, one of the kindest and most genuine people to walk this earth.”
“Hector Figueroa embodied the word ‘solidarity,’” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a tweet. “He bound us all together. His was always the voice of empathy, of conviction, of principle.”
Figueroa would make occasional appearances in this part of the Bronx, including a stop in 2010 to endorse Adriano Espaillat for his then-run for state senator. Espaillat would, of course, win that race, and later become a congressman.
“Hector Figueroa led successful campaigns for better pay and working conditions for thousands of individuals and families,” Espaillat said. “He will be missed greatly, but his legacy will continue to thrive in our work to champion the cause held near to his heart.”
Figueroa’s death was even recognized by two leading presidential candidates on the Democratic ticket.
“I’m heartbroken to hear of the passing of Hector Figueroa,” former vice president Joe Biden tweeted. “Hector was a stalwart champion in the fight to ensure every worker receives the respect and dignity they’ve earned.”
“Hector’s leadership as president of 32BJ SEIU deeply inspired me,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter. “I’m honored to have known him.”
Under Figueroa’s leadership, 32BJ grew by more than 50,000 members, according to the union. He first became active in SEIU in 1995, rising to director of the 32BJ’s New York metro district, before becoming president.
The union now boasts 175,000 members, and has fought to expand raise wages, shield immigrants, and help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.