Prominent Latino labor leader Héctor Figueroa has died at 57

Figueroa was the president of 32BJ, the nation's largest property service workers union.
Image: Hector Figueroa
Hector Figueroa at 32BJ SEIU headquarters in New York City.Raul A. Reyes

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By Nicole Acevedo

Héctor Figueroa, one of the nation's most prominent Latino labor leaders and a "champion for working people, minorities, the poor, the voiceless," died of a heart attack Thursday night in New York, according to the union 32BJ.

He was 57.

Figueroa, a Puerto Rican, has been credited with reinvigorating the union — the nation's largest property service workers union — and working to boost its relevance amid current trends that have seen an erosion in the numbers and clout of organized labor.

Members of 32BJ are mourning the "devastating loss" of their union president, according to a statement from the organization Friday morning.

"In his many years of service to our union, to the labor movement, and to our communities, he consistently joined together a clear vision about the empowerment of working people with compassion and energy," the statement said.

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Figueroa is survived by his wife, Deirdre, and his children, Eric and Elena.

"I would like to extend my condolences to the family of Hector Figueroa. As president of 32BJSEIU, you were a tireless champion of labor rights, working hard to fight & protect the common interests of Bronxites & New Yorkers," Bronx Borough President Ruben Díaz Jr. wrote on Twitter.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement, "I am beyond heartbroken to learn of the sudden passing of Héctor Figueroa — a towering figure in politics and a hero of the labor community who did untold good for the working people of this state and this nation — Héctor was a champion for working people, minorities, the poor, the voiceless.”

Other public officials and leaders of organizations that work to advance civil rights have been publicly commenting on Figueroa's legacy.

"We are utterly devastated by the news of the passing of Hector Figueroa, who has been a lion in our movement. Hector has fought tenaciously for many years for the rights of workers and immigrants. He has been a steadfast ally of community organizations like ours," said Javier Valdés, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, which advocates for immigrants' rights.

Since Figueroa became president of 32BJ in 2012, the local had added about 50,000 members, including 18,000 from a merger with another local and 30,000 from organizing campaigns.

“It’s been a great experience to be part of that growth,” Figueroa previously told NBC News in a profile about his work, “especially since it is not a typical trajectory. But it shows that we have not given up on the idea that unions can grow, be strong, and have a diverse base of members.”

Details about memorial plans will be forthcoming, 32BJ said.

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