LABOR DEPARTMENT REMEMBERS 95th ANNIVERSARY OF SWEATSHOP FIRE
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Tragedy Led to First Anti-Sweatshop Legislation of its Kind
Albany, NY (March 21, 2006) - State Labor Commissioner Linda Angello today joined state legislative and union leaders to commemorate the 95th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, which led to the tragic death of 146 garment workers. At a ceremony at the Empire State Plaza, Commissioner Angello acknowledged the importance of the fire, which significantly changed worker protection laws. On March 25, 1911, fire swept through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, trapping workers on the top three floors of a 10-story building, where exits were locked and fire escapes were defective. The tremendous public outcry that followed the tragedy led New York State to enact many of the first significant worker protection laws in the nation.
“Each year we honor the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and pledge to never forget their sacrifice by continuing our efforts to provide safe work places for all New Yorkers,” said Commissioner Linda Angello. “Governor Pataki’s support of the Labor Department’s Apparel Industry Task Force has enabled us to pursue and prosecute individuals who flagrantly violate New York’s garment laws.”
Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said, “The Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire was a tragic and unfortunate event. This memorial ceremony is an annual reminder that we must be vigilant in our efforts to promote safer workplace conditions so that the tragic deaths of these victims were not in vain.”
Senator George D. Maziarz, Chairman of the Senate Labor Committee said, “The fateful morning of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was a day we will never forget. Through that horrible tragedy was born a need to fight for safe working conditions, a fight which I am proud to continue leading today.”
Assembly member Susan John, Chair of the Assembly Labor Committee said, “The Triangle Shirtwaist Company workers will never be forgotten. This tragedy, and the men and women who lost their lives, remind us that we must remain vigilant as a state and as a people to fight for the rights, health, and safety of all workers and their families.”
“The tragic death of 146 young women garment workers, almost all teenage girls and young women, in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire 93 years ago led to the first serious labor safety laws in the nation and was a dramatic impetus to the American Labor movement,” said Senator Serphin R. Maltese (Queens). “My grandmother and two aunts were among those killed in the tragedy. My brother, Vincent Maltese, is president of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Memorial Society and this anniversary is a solemn occasion in my family. I commend Labor Commissioner Linda Angello for her continued efforts to ensure that we never forget the tough lessons learned on that fateful day.”
“It is important to remember the 146 workers who lost their lives at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which provided a significant catalyst for creating the workers’ compensation system in the early 1900’s,” Workers’ Compensation Board Executive Director Richard A. Bell said. “As we continue to look for solutions to make the workers' compensation program a better system, the needless tragedy of the Triangle fire should serve as a constant reminder that employers and workers should act together to ensure safe work conditions and fair worker protections at reasonable costs to employers.”
The New York State Department of Labor enforces state garment wage and hour laws through its Apparel Industry Task Force (AITF). This year marks the AITF’s 19th anniversary of operation. The AITF is the first investigative unit of its kind in the nation and conducts more than 1,200 inspections of firms throughout New York City’s garment sector each year. Task Force members investigate garment manufacturers and contractors to inspect working conditions, review employee records and examine registration certificates. The AITF issues violation notices to businesses that break state laws covering registration, child labor, wages and benefits, working hours and industrial homework. In addition, the Task Force refers any unsafe working conditions to the appropriate state, local or federal authorities.
Governor Pataki has signed several key pieces of legislation aimed at ending sweatshop abuses. In 1998, he signed the “Joint Liability” law, which holds contractors and manufactures jointly liable for any wages not paid to contractors’ employees. This law also empowers the Commissioner of Labor to have merchandise produced by illegal firms tagged as “unlawfully manufactured.”
In 1996 Governor Pataki signed the “Hot Goods” law, which enables the state Attorney General to prohibit the shipment, sale or purchase of goods produced by firms that fail to adhere to state wage and hour laws. Since the legislation was passed, the Task Force has collected more than $23.6 million for workers at 3,887 establishments.
In March 2001, Governor Pataki announced the addition of 10 Spanish, Korean, and Chinese-speaking investigators to the AITF. He also announced technological initiatives for the Task Force to help their efforts in the field.
On Labor Day 2001, Governor Pataki signed a law that enabled boards of education across the State to consider labor standards and working conditions, including the illegal use of child labor, when purchasing school uniform apparel. The law grants authority to boards of education to determine that a manufacturer is not a responsible bidder if it does not meet certain employment standards, such as failure to pay wages, violation of child labor laws, violation of employees’ rights to form unions and workplace safety.
In November 2001, Governor Pataki signed legislation that amended the labor law extending criminal sanctions to officers and agents of any apparel manufacturer corporation who knowingly permit the corporation to violate apparel industry registration requirements.
In August 2002, Governor Pataki signed legislation enacting the “New York State Apparel Workers Fair Labor Conditions and Procurement Act.” Among other provisions, it gives SUNY, CUNY, and State agencies the same authority that was previously granted to the boards of education. The bill also created the “September 11 Bidders Registry,” which gives purchasing preferences for contracts with SUNY, CUNY, state and local governments to apparel firms affected by the terrorist attack in lower Manhattan.
In 2003, Governor Pataki signed legislation that allows boards of education and public colleges to consider labor standards when purchasing “sporting equipment.” Recent laws have provided for labor standards to be considered when purchasing apparel; this legislation extends this provision to the purchase of sporting equipment as part of the “sweat-free schools bill.”
In 2004, Governor Pataki signed legislation entitled the “Apparel Workers’ Protection Act,” which authorizes the Commissioner of Labor to publish on the Internet a list of persons or entities investigated by the Labor Department or the Apparel Industry Task Force and found not to be in violation of the labor law. Additionally, the law empowers the Task Force inspectors to evacuate and close any premises deemed to be in serious violation of the applicable fire code.
In 2005, Governor Pataki proposed in his Executive Budget renaming the Apparel Industry Task Force to the Fair Wages Task Force, and broadening their jurisdiction to include every industry where the potential for sweatshop conditions exists. The expansion of responsibilities for the Task Force would be tremendously helpful in identifying and apprehending violators of the State’s labor laws.
After the Triangle fire, Frances Perkins was a member of the Factory Investigating Commission that successfully recommended stronger safety measures. After being named New York State Commissioner of Labor in 1929, she was appointed the United States Secretary of Labor in 1933 and was the first woman federal cabinet official in American history. At a 50th anniversary memorial observance, Ms. Perkins said of the Triangle workers, “They did not die in vain, and we will never forget them.”