NEWARK, NJ - A prominent union leader who successfully fought to get Newark Liberty International Airport employees a $19 minimum wage has died.
Hector Figueroa, president of 32 BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU), died suddenly last night in New York of an apparent heart attack, a union spokeswoman confirmed. He was 57.
“For those of us who have worked with him to further the well-being of our members and working people everywhere, and felt his personal and principled concern for our members, our staff and others this is a devastating loss,” the union wrote in a statement.
“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.”
32BJ SEIU is the largest service workers union in the country. It represents 163,000 window cleaners, airport workers, maintenance works and doormen in 11 states.
Figueroa served as president of 32 BJ SEIU since 2012. His online biography says he was "born into the labor movement" in Ponce, Puerto Rico where his parents fought to unionize as teachers. He previously worked as SEIU organizing director for Puerto Rico.
He came to the United States in 1982 and had a long history with activism and union work.
Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement he was shocked and deeply saddened by Figueroa's sudden death. He said working families have lost a fierce advocate.
"His support was invaluable to me, and his tireless efforts were invaluable to our ongoing work of strengthening the rights and improving the lives of working families -- especially our work to put New Jersey's minimum wage on its current path to $15 an hour,” Murphy said. “That law, and the millions of families it will lift, will be part of Hector's strong and lasting legacy.”
Figueroa leaves behind a wife and two daughters. Memorial plans will be forthcoming.