Hector Figueroa led a union of building service workers, but he would say his job was to advocate for all working people.

The unexpected passing of Figueroa on Thursday came as a shock. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the union leader embodied solidarity. Governor Andrew Cuomo called him a champion for working people, minorities, the poor and the voiceless.

"He's left such a mark, not only in the city, and in the state in the country really in the world," said Shirley Aldebol, assistant to the President at 32BJSEIU.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez called him a champion for working families around the country.

Figueroa was a towering figure on New York's political stage and a central character in America's modern labor movement. A native of Puerto Rico, he became one of the most influential voices in a national fight to raise the minimum wage.

He organized airport workers, negotiated contracts in multiple states along the East Coast and advocated strongly for immigrant rights.
His most recent victory: securing representation rights for thousands of farm workers across New York.

"The immigrants' rights movement would not be as strong in New York if Hector Figueroa hadn't been around planting seeds," said Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy.

When Hurricane Maria ravaged his hometown, Figueroa was one of the loudest voices calling out the Trump administration's failures after the storm.

"His contributions in using the platform that he had as a labor leader to talk about the incredible inequity with regards to Puerto Rico, not only after Hurricane Maria but even before that," said former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

An economist by training, Figureoa's endorsement was highly sought. He successfully grew the union's membership by more than 50,000 members since taking over the helm in 2012, after a scandal toppled the previous leader.  

Figueroa leaves behind his wife Deidre, a son and a daughter. He was 57 years old.