On March 23, dozens of Local 79 members joined hundreds of other union members, members of community organizations and elementary school students to commemorate the 115th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The fire, which occurred in 1911, killed 145 garment workers who were unable to escape the burning factory due to locked exit doors and other unsafe conditions. The fire resulted in a series of laws that improved fire safety standards and working conditions, including limiting the working hours of women and children.
Numerous labor leaders and politicians spoke to the crowd, as shirts representing the dead workers lofted in the breeze. This was followed by a line of people, including dozens of elementary school children, stepping up to a microphone to read the names and ages of each of the workers who lost their lives in the fire. The NYC Fire Department then raised a ladder to the upper floors of the building that stands on the site of the old factory to signify the Department’s ability to rescue people who find themselves in emergency situations.
The annual commemoration of this tragedy serves to remind everyone of the inhumane and unsafe conditions under which workers throughout many parts of the world continue to toil. For Local 79 members and construction workers in New York City, it is a reminder of the key role unions play in maintaining safety standards on job sites. In 2015, there were 16 deaths on construction sites in New York City, the vast majority of which were on non-union sites. With the construction boom that is occurring in New York City,the need for safety training for construction workers and safety and labor standards on construction sites, which unions always have provided, remains greater than ever.