PS 398 renamed in honor of late Jackson Heights labor union president


A school in Jackson Heights was renamed The Héctor Figueroa School, after the fiery former president of the labor union 32BJ SEIU on Wednesday.

The denotation was to honor the late leader who was the president of one of the strongest unions in the country that died earlier this year, according to the mayor’s office.

“Héctor Figueroa was the embodiment of the fight for fairness and justice. His legacy lives on across the entire city – from workers who now have benefits they deserve to those who continue to draw inspiration from his mission,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Now, children from this school will see his name daily and learn how to take action for what is right.”

During his seven-year leadership of 32BJ SEIU, a 175,000-member strong union, which has workers in New York, Washington D.C., New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, New Hampshire, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland he fought for better work standards for property workers.

Figueroa fought for the rights of window cleaners, airport workers, superintendents, doormen, maintenance workers, cleaners, porters and security officers so that they could have a prevailing wage, he protected workers during changes in contracts, he shielded immigrants who were targets of ICE and he lead the Fight for $15, according to 32BJ SEIU.

“I am proud, and a little sad, to celebrate PS 398 taking on the name of my dear brother Héctor Figueroa,” said Kyle Bragg, President of 32BJ. “Héctor loved Queens as a place where families from all over the world learned to call each other neighbors, friends, and family. That’s why we are so glad his name and legacy will have a chance to live on in the county he called home, where he was so happy to raise his family and work to make things better for all families.”

Figueroa, a Jackson Heights resident, was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico to a family of educators. His father was a principal and his mother was a teacher and principal, according to the mayor’s office.

The elementary school, which will be his namesake, opened in 2019 and currently serves 117 preschool to kindergarten students, according to the mayor’s office. The school is expected to grow to serve 476 preschool to fifth-grade students.

Principal Erica Ureña was the person that engaged the school community on the process of renaming the school and teachers and families voted to ultimately name the school in Figueroa’s honor.

The state-of-the-art ADA-accessible building is fully air-conditioned and includes art, music and science resource rooms, reading and research rooms, a community room, a gym, a childhood playground and a rooftop playground.

“Héctor Figueroa was a true champion of the rights and dignity of workers, and he fought tenaciously for families to be able to enjoy better lives,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. “It is fitting that his legacy will be kept alive by the renaming of this school, where children in the borough he proudly called home will be afforded the quality education they will need to succeed in both the workplace and in life.”

His last major act as union president was an attempt to unionize the tech giant Amazon, according to Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) earlier this year.

“He was not shortsighted,” said Weprin on the now terminated Amazon deal. “As a labor leader, he could see the benefits of having 25,000 well-paid employees. He was a visionary, and even though Amazon’s labor practices were probably not the best in the industry, he had a vision of organizing those 25,000 employees. He saw beyond the rhetoric.”

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza found the renaming to be the “perfect choice.”

“As our students learn about the world they’ll also learn that everyone’s voice deserves to be heard, just like Héctor believed deeply. I couldn’t be prouder to celebrate that and honor his legacy,” said Carranza.