Photo: AP

Hector Figueroa, the head of SEIU 32BJ—one of the strongest and most politically active labor unions in New York—died suddenly last night at the age of 57.

The union sent a statement today announcing “the unexpected passing of union president Héctor Figueroa last night in New York.” Figueroa had worked for the 32BJ for two decades, and became its president in 2012. His commitment to organizing helped to grow the union to its current size of more than 175,000 members, making it the largest property service workers union in the country. Throughout New York City and the entire eastern U.S., countless doormen, security guards, and janitors were able to achieve a living wage and benefits thanks to the union’s power.

As the head of a politically influential union, Figueroa sometimes clashed with more leftist factions of the labor movement; his union broke with others to vocally supported Amazon’s HQ2 project in New York City, and often supported establishment Democratic candidates over more radical insurgents. Nevertheless, Figueroa’s staunch commitment to organizing and growing his union’s membership, his genuine passion for racial economic justice for some of the most vulnerable working people in America, and his resolute good will and kindness even in the midst of contentious intra-labor fights made him one of the most vital labor leaders in the country.

When I interviewed Figueroa in 2017, I asked him about what seemed like the slow progress of the labor movement. “We happen to be looking at a snapshot of a movie,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time.”

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But we’ll get there. RIP.