For immediate release
March 27, 2009
Aimee Jennings, Unite Here
Labor Union Honors Workers' Lives Lost and Recognizes Continued Dangers Faced on the Job
NEW YORK, NY– Earlier today, UNITE HERE, the New York City Fire Department, workers and school children commemorated the Triangle Fire on March 25, 1911. Among those who came to mark the anniversary of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and advocate for improved workers’ safety were Ed Vargas of UNITE HERE, New York City Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, New York City Comptroller William Thompson; and New York Metropolitan Area Joint Board Local 23-25 Secretary- Treasurer May Chen.
The fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, located in New York City’s Greenwich Village, was one of the worst industrial tragedies in our nation’s history, and, until September 11, 2001, it was the city’s deadliest workplace disaster. Fire broke out and within minutes spread to consume the building’s upper three stories. Firefighters who arrived at the scene were unable to rescue workers trapped inside because the doors were locked and their ladders could not reach the factory floor. During today’s ceremony, a bell tolled for the lives lost as students and workers read the name of, and placed a flower for, each victim of the Triangle Fire.
The tragedy marked a turning point in the city’s fire safety efforts and the struggle by workers to organize for safer, more just working conditions. The Triangle Fire commemoration highlighted the dangerous and inhumane conditions that workers continue to face and emphasized the need for rapid passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.
The Employee Free Choice Act will give workers a greater voice in workplace safety by requiring companies to recognize a union when a majority of workers sign cards stating that they want a union. Once passed, the Employee Free Choice Act will enact meaningful penalties against employers who break the law.
"The Triangle Shirtwaist factory was infamous because the employers refused to recognize the union even though many workers were union members of Local 25, the predecessor of today’s Local 23-25," said May Chen, New York Metropolitan Area Joint Board Secretary- Treasurer. "It took a disaster, where 146 young immigrant workers lost their lives, for the city and employers to change some of their most abusive practices. Today, despite the union’s efforts, low wage and immigrant workers often face similar horrors as well as major barriers to unionization. With the Employee Free Choice Act, we have the opportunity to give all workers a real voice in workplace safety, benefits and rights that can be won through union organizing."
"We know that union jobs are safer jobs," said Ed Vargas of UNITE HERE. "We know that union workers, regardless of their country of origin, have the power to demand a safe workplace of their employers, we cannot wait for another tragedy – we must pass the Employee Free Choice Act now."
UNITE HERE represents approximately 450,000 workers in the hospitality, gaming, food service, laundry, textiles and manufacturing distribution industries in the United States and Canada.