A Queens elementary school was officially renamed after union leader Hector Figueroa.
“When we think about this city’s history, a city of immigrants, a city of people who believed that we could always do better… who epitomizes that better than Hector Figueroa?”said Mayor Bill de Blasio, during the renaming announcement inside of the school’s gym. “I can’t think of anyone.”
Figueroa, who passed away in July, was the former president of the 32BJ SEIU, the New York branch of the Service Employees International Union which oversees 170,000 airport workers, security guards, porters, superintendents and doorman across 11 states and Washington D.C.
During his seven years leading the union, Figueroa increased membership by 50,000 and was instrumental in bolstering 32BJ’s political influence. He fought alongside fast-food workers to raise the state’s minimum to $15. In 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation implementing the first stages of the wage increase. After Dec. 31 of this year, all workers in New York will be paid at least $15 an hour. Last year, he helped raise the wage for Port Authority in the New York and New Jersey raise the minimum wage to $19 an hour.
Those that remembered Figueroa at the ceremony, recalled him as a fighter for powerless, regardless of race, religion or sex. Figueroa’s wife, Deidre McFadyen, said during the ceremony that she had her husband moved to the neighborhood 11 years ago because they wanted to live in a “polyglot” neighborhood where “people of diverse races, cultures and classes lived in harmony.
“This school is his own school that accepts all children… regardless of language or background to have the same opportunity for an excellent education,” said McFadyen.
PS 398 opened for the 2019-2020 school year, and currently only serves young students in Pre-K, Kindergarten and with plans to expand to include first through fifth grades by 2025. And sits in a neighborhood with large Latino communities. According to 2017 PUMA data, 66.9 percent of the population of Jackson Heights and North Corona is Latino. The renaming not only honors a great force in New York’s past but also sets a tone for the future.
“As a Latino male, living in in the particular moment in the United States of America, where there are messages that are given to Latino males and females…that their families are rapists and drug dealers, who are told that they are just living off of society, that they don’t contribute, how fitting is it that generations of children in Jackson Heights will see Hector Figueroa’s name on this school?,” said Chancellor Richard Carranza.
Figueroa, a native of Ponce, Puerto Rico, moved to Bronx after protests over tuition hikes at the University of Puerto Rico overtook the university. His roots in the labor movement ran deep. Both his parents were educators on the island who advocated for unions. He repeatedly advocated for the island after working as a researcher for the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile workers union he returned to Puerto Rico to help organize public employees.