Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee

 

100 years ago today, a fire broke out in a New York City garment factory — a common hazard in those days.

But this particular fire killed 146 employees of theTriangle Shirtwaist Factory, 62 of whom jumped to their deaths to escape the flames.,

Aside from mourning the victims, the lessons of this tragedy take on special urgency today - because Republicans seem to have forgotten them.

According to Scott Walker, Mitch Daniels, and scores of Republican state legislatorsall over the country, employees don´t deserve a voice when it comes to their working conditions.

They argue that teachers, office workers, and other state employees don't have especially dangerous jobs, so when we try to talk about "safety" and "security," GOP legislators think "waste."

But workplace injustice is workplace injustice, no matter which century it happens in. How can we stop modern tragedies if working men and women have no voice when it comes to their own health and safety?

After all, garment-making wasn't especially dangerous work for the Triangle employees until management began bolting the doors shut in the name of "efficiency."

The laws, at the time, did not protect the 146 employees who died. The factory's owners were acquitted of criminal charges.

A civil lawsuit against the owners decided that each life lost was worth just $75 to his or her family. But the owners convinced their insurance company to reimburse them an extra $400 per victim, beyond what the owners' lost property was worth.

That means the Triangle owners realized a profit from their own negligence that took 146 lives. They later opened a new factory, where they were once again caught locking the doors on their employees.

This was a case where the market, in which workers had no voice, made it more profitable to put lives in danger than to protect them.

A union, had it existed for the Triangle employees, could have demanded unlocked doors as part of the?collective bargaining agreement. It could have protected employees from being fired just for going to management or to the Fire Marshal with safety concerns.

A union could have negotiated for survivor benefits, because those employees' families and children deserved far more than $75 for what they lost.

But Republicans today insist that state workers shouldn´t have right to ask for any of the things that might have saved the Triangle employees or protected their families.

Not even prison guards, many of whom work every day in buildings housing hardened criminals, get a say in their own safety under Scott Walker's bill in Wisconsin.

If the Republicans win this fight, then the choice for most state employees will be to work under conditions set by GOP legislators, or quit or be fired.

Ask anyone who's unemployed today and struggling to support their family — that's no choice at all.

It wasn't in 1911, and it isn't today.

Sincerely,

Michael Sargeant
Executive Director
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee

p.s. Nearly 7,000 of you have signed our petition in support of workers' rights - if you haven't already and you'd like to add your voice to this effort, please visit www.dlcc.org/WorkersRights.