Labor Department Remembers 99th Anniversary of Sweatshop Fire
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Tragedy Led to First Anti-Sweatshop Legislation of its Kind
Albany, NY (March 23, 2010) - Can't See the video? Click Here to Get Adobe Flash Player. State Labor Commissioner Colleen Gardner today joined state legislative and union leaders to commemorate the 99th 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 Gardner 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.
Commissioner Gardner said, "We are here to see that this tragedy never happens again. By enforcing the State's Labor Laws, the Department of Labor ensures safe working conditions for all New Yorkers. New York enacted many of the first significant worker protection laws in the nation. We continue to lead in protecting the health and safety of employees in the workplace. We honor the women who died at the Triangle Fire and stay true to our fight for workers' rights and workplace safety."
Assemblymember 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."
Senator George Onorato, Chair of the Senate Labor Committee, said, "In the almost 100 years that have passed since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire took the lives of 146 helpless employees, New York State has made great strides in improving worker safety and otherwise enacting a variety of important laws to protect the rights and welfare of workers. By gathering here today, we are ensuring that the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire victims are never forgotten, and we are reaffirming our commitment to ensuring that the safety and well-being of New York's workers remains at the top of our list of priorities."
The Apparel Industry Task Force, now in its 24th year, is still needed to protect people who work in garment shops. The apparel industry remains the largest manufacturing sector in New York City, with nearly 1,603 registered shops.
In 2009, the Apparel Industry Task Force found that 82 apparel firms were not registered as required. Last year, the Apparel Industry Task Force began using its "confiscation of goods" law to stop employers who routinely flout the registration laws.
In a widely publicized investigation, the Task Force seized the equipment and garments of a manufacturer that failed to register with the state for three years in a row. When firms do not register, it becomes a challenge to ensure that the workers are paid lawful wages; the manufacturer in question had contracted with a firm that owed its employees nearly half a million dollars in overtime wages.
After the Triangle fire, Frances Perkins was a member of the Factory Investigating Commission, which 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."