Héctor Figueroa Leadership Award

Hector Figueroa Leadership Award

Héctor Figueroa, President of SEIU 32BJ, was a seminal figure in the life of New York City, fighting for a healthy, sustainable future and good jobs for working people. And he did it with compassion, grace, and a knack for bringing people together.

Urban Green Council was fortunate enough to have worked with and learned from Héctor, who also served on the Urban Green Board of Directors for three years. He made an indelible impression on all who met him and also left an incredible legacy, one we would like to memorialize with the Héctor Figueroa Leadership Award.

The award will be given annually to individuals who are:

  • Sustainability champions at the city, state, federal or international level;
  • Change-makers who bridge divides to reach consensus; 
  • Dedicated to the common good.

Priority consideration given to diverse candidates and women.

Recipients

2021: Sevdet Kukaj and the SEIU 32BJ Team at 117 East 57th St.

Sevdet Kukaj

New Yorkers will not soon forget 2020, our year of COVID. We masked up, we quarantined, and we saw friends and family get sick, or worse.

And the incredible sacrifice of frontline workers left an indelible mark, as they cared for us at great risk to themselves.

Such was the case at The Galleria, a full-service condominium building at 117 East 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan. The SEIU 32BJ team of 35, led by Resident Manager Sevdet “Steve” Kukaj, worked tirelessly to ensure that the building and the tenants experienced no disruption in service and that all COVID health protocols were rigorously maintained. This is particularly impressive given that 75 percent of the staff got COVID over the course of four months. All thankfully survived. Sevdet was one of the last ones to catch COVID.

How did they do it? They came up with a range of creative solutions. Not much was open in the neighborhood, making it hard for the team to get meals. Steve convinced the condominium’s Board of Directors to give him a weekly allowance for food, managing the cooking of lasagne and other dishes with the help of his wife. They also got meals from local restaurants for the staff. As VP of the Manhattan Resident Managers club, Steve worked with the club to collect donations from the club’s members (mostly 32BJ members) to feed the local first responders—healthcare workers and firefighters to name a few—to keep them fortified as well. Steve also set up a triage center in the Sky Terrace for building staff to eat, relax and sleep over in order to cover more shifts. 

According to Steve, everyone was extremely loyal to the building, and “went above and beyond, giving their all.” For this reason, Urban Green was delighted to give the first-ever Héctor Figueroa Leadership Award to the team at 117 East 57th Street. They truly embody Héctor’s selflessness, generosity and commitment to the common good.