WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) released the following statement in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire:
“We cannot afford to turn back the clock on workers’ rights. One hundred years ago this week, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York took the lives of more than 100 workers who could not flee the burning building.
“It should not have taken an inferno to improve factory safety standards. As we remember the lives lost, we must also honor the progress made by many American workers and their allies who demanded safe working conditions and decent wages for an honest day’s work.
“Because of their efforts, we have a federal minimum wage, workplace safety laws, protection for pensions, and Social Security. Their actions helped build America’s middle class and provided working mothers and fathers, teachers, nurses, firefighters, and police officers with health care and insurance.
“That’s why we cannot afford to be silent as challenges to worker rights reappear. We must continue to stand up for middle class Americans who deserve the right to collectively bargain – not just for wages and benefits, but also for their jobs.
“A year ago, garment workers in Brooklyn, Ohio, joined together and fought to keep their jobs and their plant open. Their collective victory should remind us that we need to maintain a strong manufacturing base in this country in order to sustain a strong middle class.
“In February, I visited workers in a Columbus church near Capitol Square to listen to their concerns about legislation to repeal collective bargaining rights. I heard how collective bargaining not only allows them to advocate for fair pay, but also protective gear like bulletproof vests.
“We must not lose sight of the people we’re fighting to protect: middle class families and a uniquely American right to achieve the American dream.”
Following the tragic event, many workplace safety standards including sprinklers, open doors, fireproof stairwells, and operable fire escapes were enacted into law. Brown, a staunch advocate for workers’ rights and workplace safety, attended a collective bargaining listening session in Ohio last month.
There are roughly 360,000 public sector workers in Ohio represented by 3,290 collective bargaining agreements. According to the Economic Policy Institute, on an annual basis, full?time state and local workers and school employees are undercompensated by 6.0 percent in Ohio, in comparison with otherwise similar private?sector workers. Ohio’s state and local governments and school districts pay college?educated workers 25 percent less in total compensation, on average, than private employers.