By Ginger Adams Otis (New York Daily News)
As the members of 32BJ SEIU prepare to say goodbye to their longtime leader Hector Figueroa, the union’s executive board unanimously and officially voted in Tuesday his successor, Kyle Bragg.
Bragg, 60, is a familiar face among the 85,000 New Yorkers who are part of 32BJ SEIU, one of the city’s largest and most influential unions.
He and Figueroa came up the ranks together, starting in 2005 when Bragg was put in charge of the union’s 30,000 residential building workers and Figueroa handled its 25,000 commercial members.
“We were partnered by the union to work together, and I learned so much from Hector,” said Bragg, who was secretary-treasurer until being elected president. “We used to bring our children into the office sometimes and we’d have lunch together. One of the things we shared early on was our love of family, and the work we did together was grounded in making a better world for our children and the next generation of all workers.”
Figueroa, 57, a soft-spoken, erudite labor leader who got his start organizing in the garment industry, died July 11 from a heart attack. His family is holding a public memorial service for him Wednesday at Riverside Church in Manhattan at 1 p.m. that will likely be attended by a who’s who of labor and political bigwigs from across the state – as well as thousands of his own members.
“Hector was very unique. His loss is a deep tragedy not just for our union but for all workers,” said Bragg. “But Hector didn’t lead in a vacuum. He built leadership across his organization, and although we’ll be feeling his absence for years to come, he left a clear vision and path for us to follow. The success of 32BJ comes from the whole union; its membership helped build it – that’s the way Hector led.”
Bragg and Figueroa were outspoken supporters of the controversial deal to bring Amazon to Long Island City, Queens — a project that was eventually scuttled due to protest over the big tax breaks awarded to the multibillion-dollar company and unrest among some in the labor movement who were critical of the backroom way it was handled.
Figueroa, an occasional iconoclast who wasn’t afraid to acknowledge shortcomings among his fellow unions, blasted those who pushed to kill the deal. Bragg, who is chairman of 32BJ’s social and economic justice committee and was appointed to an Amazon Community Advisory Committee by Gov. Cuomo, was equally outraged.