It is important to have allies in the critical fight for social and economic justice, and the UFT has sought partnerships with other unions and organizations that share our goals of empowering members and defending the rights of all workers. Hector Figueroa, the president of 32BJ Service Employees International Union who died on July 11, was an exemplary partner in that fight.
32BJ represents more than 160,000 doormen, cleaners, security officers, airport workers, property maintenance workers, school cleaners and other service workers in New York City and along the Eastern seaboard. Figueroa mobilized his members to gain better wages and benefits, but he also grew the power of his union by organizing more than 50,000 members since his election as 32BJ president in 2012.
Figueroa’s fight extended beyond his own union hall to all low-wage workers. He built coalitions of workers of diverse ethnic backgrounds, united in the desire for good jobs, health care and a clean environment. He spearheaded the fight to raise the minimum wage in New York State to $15 an hour. He helped 40,000 airport workers in New York and New Jersey secure one of the highest minimum wages in the country — $19 an hour by 2023.
This spring, he fought for Albany to grant immigrant farmworkers overtime pay, disability and unemployment benefits and other labor protections. Gov. Cuomo signed the Farmworkers’ Fair Labor Practices Act into law not long after Figueroa’s death.
In this and so many other ways, Hector Figueroa was among the leaders who have made the labor movement newly relevant in the 21st century. His legacy will continue to inspire us in the continuing struggle for workers’ rights.