Héctor J. Figueroa was elected President of 32BJ Service Employees International Union, the largest property services union in the country, in 2012. 32BJ represents more than 120,000 property service workers – window cleaners, superintendents, doormen, maintenance workers, cleaners, porters and security officers – in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
Héctor Figueroa was born into the labor movement in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where his parents, as teachers, were part of a long struggle to win a union at work. His mother and father went on strike in 1974, but it wasn’t until 24 years later that the teachers won collective bargaining rights with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). At the time, Hector served as SEIU’s Organizing Director for Puerto Rico. Under his leadership, teachers and state employees struck, marched, and rallied, and his parents, along with thousands of other workers, were finally able to see the fruit of their many years of struggle for justice.
Héctor came to the United States in 1982 after being banned from university for participating in a student strike. He stayed with an aunt and uncle in the Bronx and completed his college education on a grant to study economics. Driven to continue his activism, Héctor started with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (now Workers United) in 1990, where he took part in several campaigns including efforts to organize textile workers at Fieldcrest Cannon in North Carolina and protests against NAFTA. Héctor was one of the first leaders in the labor movement to speak out for immigrant rights and he played an active role in ACTWU’s international solidarity and global organizing work.
In 1995, he joined SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign, followed by his work in Puerto Rico as Organizing Director for the island. In February 1999, he was asked to serve as deputy trustee for Local 32BJ and was elected as Secretary-Treasurer of Local 32BJ in 2000. During his time at 32BJ, Héctor built and led the research, political and education departments, and served as leader for the tri-state and New York Metro areas.
As Director of the 32BJ New York Metro District, Héctor led operations for 70,000 members in the metropolitan New York area, including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Long Island. In January 2005, Héctor successfully concluded commercial contract negotiations for more than 15,000 32BJ members in New Jersey, Connecticut, Westchester and Long Island, securing employer-paid family healthcare coverage and higher wages, as well as increased job security for immigrant workers. In 2007, and again in 2011, under the direction of 32BJ President Mike Fishman, Héctor successfully conducted the union’s contract campaign, securing a four-year agreement for 22,000 commercial office workers in New York. Héctor also successfully negotiated new contracts with the Broadway League of Theaters in 2008 and the BRI residential contract in 2012.
Under Héctor’s leadership, the union has raised its political profile by fighting for immigrant and worker rights in the tri-state area and establishing the American Dream Fund, the union’s voluntary political action fund. 32BJ succeeded in passing several pieces of legislation, including the NJ Prevailing Wage Act, which doubled the wages for state-contracted workers in New Jersey and the Displaced Building Service Workers Act, which protects New York City building service workers from arbitrary dismissal. 32BJ also helped pass the Language Access Bill, which requires translation for vital city services for non-English speakers. Héctor is a leader in New York City and across the country in connecting the work of unions with the fight for immigrant rights and social justice for all communities.
In recognition of his vision and leadership, Héctor was elected to the SEIU International Executive Board in 2012 and serves on its Strategic Partners and Political Strength Committees. He is a founder and the President of the Board of La Fuente, a Tri-State Worker & Community Fund, Inc. and serves on the boards of several organizations, including the New York Immigration Coalition, El Diario-La Prensa, the New York City Independent Budget Commission, the Brecht Forum, the National Institute of Latino Policy, Good Jobs First, ALIGN and the New Labor Forum’s editorial board. Hector is the recipient of many awards, including the Somos El Futuro Labor Award, the Outreach Project Annual Service Award, the New York City Central Labor Council Distinguished Service Award, the Working Theater Outstanding Labor Leadership Award and the Citizen Action of NY Progressive Leadership Award.
Héctor lives in Queens, New York, with his wife Deidre, and his children, Eric and Elena.
Sometime this month, the wage board empanelled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to make a recommendation that could have a dramatic effect on low-wage workers, especially in communities of color.
The importance of this year’s election cannot be overstated. In less than two weeks, we will go to the polls to begin the process of electing a new mayor.