Hector, I will miss you, compañero

July 20, 2019 · by Alvarez Porter Group · Filed Under Choices, Lives of Leaders · Leave a Comment

Thursday night  we lost a long-time friend and colleague, Hector Figueroa, who passed away unexpectedly at the young age of 57.  Hector was the President of SEIU Local 32BJ representing janitors, doormen, and airport workers in NYC and across the eastern US.

Years ago, I worked with Hector when he was a young researcher at the Clothing and Textile Workers Union.  During the fight against NAFTA in 1993-1994, he was a key member of the union’s campaign team, which I led.   Hector’s research generated leads on US textile companies who were surreptitiously buying up Mexican textile manufacturing facilities while falsely telling US congresspeople that passing NAFTA would increase jobs in the US.  Building on Hector’s research, he and I travelled to Mexico trying to find and gather evidence to confirm these suspicions.  Using a variety of creative tactics, we were able to go into plants that had been bought by US textile manufacturers and were being retrofitted by these companies.  We talked to employers and workers and were able to use what we uncovered to expose the corporations’ true intentions,  and ultimately to persuade several congresspeople (unfortunately not enough) to oppose NAFTA.

I also worked with Hector during the successful organizing of public sector workers in Puerto Rico in 2000, which had a huge impact on changing the face and composition of SEIU and several other US unions.  It was a hot, grueling, uphill campaign on the island, and I recall his inspiring passion and energy as he worked to bring public employees all over Puerto Rico under the union’s protections.  As a leader, Hector was an energetic voice advancing the interests of Latino workers and promoting a more inclusive US labor movement.

Hector went on to become a visionary leader of one of SEIU’s largest and most innovative and powerful locals.  He was a thoughtful intellectual who dedicated himself to building the power and voice of workers in some of the most exploited industries in our economy.  I will always remember him and be honored to have had him as a friend and compañero.

I last saw Hector a couple of months ago at 32BJ’s headquarters in Manhattan, where he delivered a moving reflection on the passing of another of the labor movement’s iconic leaders, Lois Gray. We reconnected and left that event with the intention of getting together and catching up.  I am deeply shocked and saddened by his passing.

Hector’s death is a reminder of the importance of living mindfully, making each day consequential, and fully living each and every moment.  His passing is recommitting me to a daily practice of starting each day with this Buddhist prayer:   “Since only death is certain, and its timing uncertain, what will I do?”

Joe Alvarez



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