Mourning 32BJ SEIU President Héctor Figueroa

It is with great sadness that we note the untimely passing on Thursday, July 11th of Héctor Figueroa, President of 32BJ SEIU and long-time member of the Murphy Institute and SLU Advisory Boards.

Héctor was a great labor leader and political powerhouse. His belief in the right of workers to determine their own destiny and to enjoy the benefits of unionization led him to wage numerous successful campaigns that brought better pay, benefits, and working conditions to thousands of women and men. He was a progressive leader with a broad vision of labor and its role in the larger struggle for social justice. He was a champion of racial, social, and economic equality. His work in defense of immigrants’ rights was outstanding, as were his efforts to expand voting rights.

Héctor was highly educated and began his labor career as a researcher. He brought keen analytic skills to every task before him. His greatest gift, however, was his talent for organizing. He was that rare organizer who brought both passion and intellect to his work. During his presidency at 32BJ, he was responsible for increasing the union’s membership by more than 50,000 and for successfully promulgating dozens of local and state policies protecting and lifting working families. 32BJ now represents more than 175,000 property service workers—window cleaners, airport workers, superintendents, doormen, maintenance workers, cleaners, porters and security officers—along the eastern corridor from New York to Washington, D.C.

Héctor was a strong advocate for the Murphy Institute and threw his full support behind the long campaign to elevate the Institute to the status of a standalone school—the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies. Over the years, he served on our Labor Advisory Board and as a member of New Labor Forum’s editorial board. He was a brilliant and inspiring speaker and participated in numerous public programs organized by both the Murphy Institute and SLU. Under his leadership, 32BJ was a consistent donor to our Diversity Scholarship Program.

He was also eager to demonstrate leadership in the struggle for environmental justice, and in 2013, 32BJ became one of the first unions to support and actively participate in SLU’s Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) initiative. Indeed, Héctor was scheduled to participate in a TUED retreat this coming September, hosted by 32BJ.

We are all indebted to Héctor for his many years of service to the labor movement, for his strong sense of solidarity and principled leadership, and for his unwavering support of our School. But we will also remember him in very personal ways. Héctor was above all things a modest and gentle human being. He was a forceful voice for decency and civility and for that, too, he will be greatly missed.

Tributes have poured in to the union’s website from leaders around the country, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and Governors Andrew Cuomo and Phil Murray. Read them here. In addition, immediately following his death The New York Times published Héctor’s final op-ed piece, entitled “The Labor Movement Can Rise Again.” It epitomizes the essence of his fierce determination and broad vision. Read it here.

The union will publish details regarding memorial services and donations on its website.

Our thoughts are with Héctor’s family and the members of 32BJ. Our commitment to Héctor’s legacy will endure.