Labor leader Héctor Figueroa remembered as ‘a legend, a visionary’

Mourners flooded a memorial service Wednesday for deceased 32BJ SEIU president Héctor Figueroa at Riverside Church. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

The former president of the 32BJ union died unexpectedly of a heart attack at 57 years old earlier this month.

Mourners flooded a memorial service Wednesday for deceased 32BJ SEIU president Héctor Figueroa at Riverside Church.
Mourners flooded a memorial service Wednesday for deceased 32BJ SEIU president Héctor Figueroa at Riverside Church. Photo Credit: Mavis Ma

Thousands of mourners poured into Riverside Church Wednesday to remember Héctor Figueroa, who served as president of the 32BJ labor union from 2012 until he died of a heart attack earlier this month.

Many of the elected officials, labor organizers, and supporters in attendance donned the union’s familiar shade of purple — a fixture at rallies and worker-led actions across the country.

Figueroa, who was 57, was remembered as a tireless but humble leader. His colleagues vowed to carry on the fight for workers’ rights with the same energy he gave to them.

“If a door is closed in our face, we just keep knocking on that door,” said Sabrina Ladson, 59, a security officer and union board member.

“Losing him is a great loss. But with what he taught us, and with what’s inside of us, we will continue to be stronger than ever to honor his memory, and we’ll fight harder than ever and continue to grow and stay united,” she said as tears welled.

In attendance were Mayor Bill de Blasio, Attorney General Letitia James, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

Johnson said he was honored to celebrate Figueroa’s life alongside organizers and union members.

“Hector was a legend, a visionary leader, and someone who worked to lift up all workers, not just workers in his union,” he said.

32BJ supporters rallied under Figueroa’s leadership in the Fight For 15 movement that demanded a higher minimum wage. Last week — just days after Figueroa’s death — the House passed a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15.

Kyle Bragg, 60, a longtime colleague and friend of Figueroa was voted the new president of 32BJ. At times fighting back tears, Bragg lauded the man he called not only a colleague but a close friend.

“We were both, many years ago when we first met, young fathers. So we were young leaders, young fathers, learning and growing together,” he said.

Bragg described Figueroa as an “incredible human being.”

“He connected to people. That was important to him, that they knew that he wanted to connect. And that connection was a strength in him to do the work that he does,” Bragg added.

Shantel Walker, 37, who has worked with 32BJ for seven years, credited Figueroa’s guidance during her participation in the Fight For 15 movement.

“He always said I would be a strong leader. We’re gonna continue his legacy of fighting for our communities, and doing what we’re supposed to do, and what he would want us to do. What he taught us to do.”

Liam Quigley