On March 25, 1911, fire swept through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, trapping workers on the top three floors of a 10-story building, where exits were locked and fire escapes were defective. The public outcry that followed led New York state to enact many of the first significant worker protection laws in the nation.
New York State Labor Commissioner Colleen Gardner recently joined state legislative and union leaders to commemorate the anniversary of the fire. Gardner acknowledged the importance of the fire, which significantly changed worker protection laws.
“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,” said Gardner at the March 23 ceremony in Albany. “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.”
Susan John, chair of the Assembly Labor Committee, added, “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.”
Following the Triangle fire, Frances Perkins served as a member of the Factory Investigating Commission, which successfully recommended stronger safety measures. Perkins was named New York State Commissioner of Labor in 1929. In 1933, she was appointed the U.S. Secretary of Labor, becoming was the first woman federal cabinet official in American history.
At a 50th anniversary memorial observance, Perkins said of the Triangle workers, “They did not die in vain, and we will never forget them.”