Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which killed 146 garment workers, in a disaster that ignited national outrage and lead to drastic improvements in labor safety legislation and fire safety codes. But in the face of collapsing coal mines, oil rig blowouts, radiation exposure, and recent union busting efforts, the uncomfortable parallels between the current state of worker safety, and the dangerous, unregulated working conditions of the early 20th century, continues to trouble worker advocates and has been the focus of numerous media stories (some of which are included below). A century later, the fire is as relevant as ever and continues to serve as a cautionary tale of what happens when management focuses more on the bottom line than on worker health and safety.
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Honoring Francis Perkins
As March is Women’s History Month, now is the perfect time to honor early labor crusader and former NCL Executive Secretary, Frances Perkins. At the time of the fire, Perkins was having tea a few blocks away and reached the factory in time to witness garment workers jumping to their deaths with her own eyes. Perkins was instrumental in reforming working conditions, especially for women and children, as executive secretary to the Committee on Safety of New York. Perkins’ work after the fire marked the beginning of a lifetime dedicated to advocating for workers. In 1933, President Roosevelt appointed Perkins as his Secretary of Labor, making her the first woman in the United States to hold a Cabinet position—a position she held for 12 years. Frances Perkins continues to inspire a new generation of labor advocates and lead by example, at this critical time when worker advocacy is needed more than ever.