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Governor Paterson Proclaims May Labor History Month in New York State
Ceremony at Burden Iron Works Museum in Troy Highlights Capital Region's Place in the American Labor Movement

Albany, NY (May 28, 2009) - At a press event at the Burden Iron Works Museum in Troy, NY, State Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith was joined by members of the labor community and various elected officials to commemorate May as Labor History Month in New York State. Labor History Month recognizes the sacrifices and accomplishments of generations of workers in New York State. During the early years of labor history, countless individuals endured long, grueling work hours, dangerous and unsanitary conditions, and poor pay. As immigrants sought the American dream, many found themselves toiling in sweatshops that exploited their labors.

Governor David A. Paterson, who proclaimed the month of May as Labor History Month, said, “During the Month of May, we reflect on the history of labor in this State and the countless workers whose efforts and struggles contributed to the enactment of labor laws and the improvement of present day working conditions. All New Yorkers are reminded to reflect on the history and activities of the labor movement in this state and the immeasurable contributions made by the early pioneers of the labor movement.”

State Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith said, “New York is unquestionably the most important state in the realm of American labor history, and we have much to be proud of. From strong legislation to protect workers, to workers standing up for their rights in the workplace, New York’s workers laid the groundwork for an entire movement to unfold. Not so long ago, death and injuries in the workplace were so common they were almost considered routine. During this time, the City of Troy was an incubator of sorts for the worker/employer relationship, and in turn conditions for workers improved. The City of Troy’s place in the American Labor Movement is an important part of labor history in our state and nation.”

From the former office of an important firm in the history of iron and steel, the Burden Iron Works Museum promotes the City of Troy as the Silicon Valley of the nineteenth Century. At its peak, the plant stretched for ¼ of a mile and was among the leading iron foundries in the City of Troy. Its owner, Henry Burden, developed the horseshoe manufacturing machine, and workers from the famous Iron Molders International Union Number 2 of Troy were among the many organized workers who produced these horseshoes. During the American Civil War, workers in the City of Troy supplied one million horseshoes per week and 90 percent of the horseshoes for the Union Army.

2009 marks the 150th Anniversary of the Iron Molders International Union Number 2 of Troy strike, which led to better wages and working conditions for the iron molders in the City of Troy. The strike also established the union as the largest local in the nation, and solidified the Capital Region’s place in labor history.

Congressman Paul Tonko said, “Our region is incredibly blessed with a rich history, full of events that changed the landscape for our country and for all Americans. The Burden Iron Works is a prime example of the battles our forefathers fought to ensure a better outcome for future generations of workers. Better wages and working conditions are a right of all Americans, a right that was earned right here in the City of Troy. It’s important that we all take time out during this month to remember the sacrifices that were made on our behalf by the pioneers who laid the groundwork for the American labor movement.”

Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen M. Jimino said, “As Rensselaer County became more and more industrialized as our factories expanded, groups and organizations came into being to support workers rights and protect those workers by fighting for fair wages and a safer workplace.  They paved the way to our present and our future ensuring an economy that supports businesses and working families alike.”

P. Thomas Carroll, Executive Director of the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, which owns and operates the Burden Museum, and also the Executive Director of RiverSpark, New York State’s first Heritage Area, said, “The contractual relationships developed between labor and management in the nineteenth century South Troy iron industry served as a national model for workplace organization for the modern urban nation. The social invention of these arrangements was as essential to the success of the modern industrial nation as the invention of Burden’s horseshoe machine, the development of the canals and the railroads, and the invention of the telegraph and the telephone.”

Paul F. Cole, Executive Director of the American Labor Studies Center said, “The Burden Iron Works and Troy’s Iron Molders Union No. 2 were key to establishing Troy as a major industrial leader in the nineteenth century. Along with Kate Mullany’s Collar Laundry Union, the iron molders shared labor’s enduring goals we celebrate today of pride in physical labor, faith in justice and commitment to the unity of labor.”

Tragedies like the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City galvanized public support for labor reform. The demand for change led to the enactment of new worker protection laws and the development of government entities charged with enforcing them.

Milestones in the history of worker protection in New York State include:

  • 1901 – The NYS Department of Labor (DOL) is formed.
  • 1903 – Comprehensive, enforceable Child Labor Law is signed. Within a year, the number of children in the workplace declines 25 percent.
  • 1911 – Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in NYC claims 146 lives, mostly women and children. NYS Legislature creates the Factory Investigating Commission to study hazardous working conditions, resulting in the nation’s first serious work-safety laws.
  • 1913 – Industrial Board is created within DOL to promulgate the Industrial Code, a set of rules and regulations having the force of law that affect the health, safety and comfort of workers. State Constitution is amended to permit a Workmen’s Compensation Law.
  • 1918 – Bureau of Women in Industry is established, a precursor to today's Division of Labor Standards.
  • 1933 – The Prevailing Rates of Wage amendment to the Labor Law charges the Industrial Commissioner (head of DOL) to determine wages to be paid on all public works of the state, except those done for a city.
  • 1935 – The Federal Social Security Act authorizes unemployment insurance for the jobless. DOL creates the Division of Unemployment Insurance.
  • 1937 – New York passes a minimum wage law to protect women and minors. The Labor Relations Board is established to supervise labor-management relations.
  • 1938 – The Fair Labor Standards Act sets a national minimum wage standard and a 40-hour work week. An amendment to the NYS Constitution establishes a “Bill of Rights” for working people.
  • 1944 – Minimum wage law is amended to include men.
  • 1971 – Workmen’s Compensation Board renamed Workers’ Compensation Board.
  • 1987 – DOL begins regulation of asbestos control activities.
  • 1991 – NYS is the first to require both school and parental permission for teenagers to work past 10 p.m.
  • 1992 – NYS is the first to establish enforceable guidelines to protect public employees from tuberculosis in the workplace.
  • 1999 – NYS minimum wage is raised to $5.15 per hour and linked to the federal minimum wage.
  • 2007 – NYS minimum wage is raised to $7.15 per hour.

For more information on the Burden Iron Works Museum, please visit http://www.hudsonmohawkgateway.org. To make a reservation for a tour of the museum, call (518) 274-5267.