Labor Seal NYS Department of Labor                          

Contact Leo Rosales Cell: 518-281-6167 Office: 518-457-5519 Email: leo.rosales@labor.ny.gov www.labor.ny.gov
Labor Department Remembers 98th Anniversary of Sweatshop Fire
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Tragedy Led to First Anti-Sweatshop Legislation of its Kind

Albany, NY (March 24, 2009) - State Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith today joined state legislative and union leaders to commemorate the 98th 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 Smith acknowledged the importance of the fire, which substantially 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.

Commissioner Smith said, “The Department of Labor was born from the ashes of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and each year we remember their sacrifice. Unfortunately, worker abuse continues to this day. We must work ever harder to enforce the state’s Labor Laws and ensure safe workplaces for all New Yorkers so that this tragedy never happens again.”

Assembly Labor Committee Chair Susan John said, “The Triangle Shirtwaist Company workers will never be forgotten. This tragedy, and the 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. I applaud Commissioner Smith on taking the lead in ensuring the safety of our workers and I am committed to continue fighting for the workplace safety our families deserve.”

Senator George Onorato, Chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, said, "While government action to protect the safety of workers may have come too late to save the 146 employees who perished, new laws were passed in New York as a direct result of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy to provide needed safeguards for workers and new safety standards in factories. The death of the Triangle Shirtwaist employees, while horrific beyond imagination, surely helped to save the lives of many other workers of their generation and workers of the future."

Former Senator Serphin Maltese said, "On behalf of the Triangle Fire Survivors Association and all the families who still remember, we wish to extend our sincere appreciation to Labor Commissioner Patricia Smith for her commitment to having this ceremony again this year. As we approach the 100th Anniversary of this terrible tragedy, the importance of keeping the memory of this tragedy alive for future generations is paramount."

The New York State Department of Labor enforces state garment wage and hour laws through its Apparel Industry Task Force (AITF). 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.

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.”