Juan Hernandez began working with building service workers in Connecticut in 1993, and he has been defending labor rights since the early 1970s. At age 17 Juan was arrested at a rally for striking sanitation workers and nurses in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, not far from his hometown, Vega Baja, a small municipality about 25 miles west of San Juan.
“I was the change maker in my family,” says Juan, the youngest child of a single mother of six who worked as a housemaid. Juan says of his deeply religious mother, “She was my mentor. She worried about me because, since I was 15, I was questioning the injustice I saw around me every day.”
Despite the family’s poverty, Juan and several siblings attended university, where Juan’s political commitment solidified. In 1979, Juan decided to try his luck in Hartford, where a friend lived. Within a few months, he became a member of UFCW Local 208 at a frozen food packaging factory, rising through the ranks to join two contract bargaining committees and, in 1992, the committee that negotiated the closing of the plant.
In November 1993, Juan joined SEIU Local 531 as an organizer and quickly moved over to representation for local janitors. Over the next quarter century, Juan worked in a team that merged with 32BJ in 2000 and oversaw the union’s growth from 2,500 members to over 4,300 today. In 2014, Juan became Connecticut District Leader, where he led the expansion of the union into state security contracting the following year. Juan filled a new Vice President position in May 2018, an accomplishment that crowns a quarter century of working for a labor union that, as he puts it, really cares for the well-being of its membership, and of all working people.
A father of three and grandfather of two, Juan and his wife Herminia, a retired school social worker, live in Manchester, Connecticut.