Wednesday, April 16, 2014

White House Remembers Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

March 28, 2011 by ajehlen  
Filed under Featured News

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By Alain Jehlen

On March 25, 1911, fire killed 146 workers, mostly immigrant girls and women, in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. The fire raced through the piles of cloth. Some of the doors had been locked by the owners, probably because they thought workers would steal the merchandise. Many workers jumped to their deaths to escape the flames.

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire shocked the nation and became a tragic lesson in what can happen when management has all the power and employees have none. It helped galvanize immigrant workers in New York sweatshops to build a strong union, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which led to safer garment industry that provided decent wages.

Today, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis hosted a White House tribute marking the Triangle Fire centennial and honoring women labor organizers.

Green Bay Education Association President Toni Lardinois, a business education teacher, was one of several NEA members invited to take part. For Lardinois, the anniversary takes on special meaning. Her union in Wisconsin is under attack and has had to make painful concessions, and union members won’t be the only losers.

Green Bay Education Association President Toni Lardinois

“Collective bargaining is about so much more than salaries,” says Lardinois. “It’s about our working conditions, which are our students’ learning conditions. It allows us to sit down with management in a collaborative environment to talk about our work environment and how to help our students.

The Green Bay Association, in an effort to quickly win a contract and preserve some check on management power before Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union law takes effect, was forced to accept the “suspension” of many important contract clauses including class size limits.

“Collective bargaining is about so much more than salaries,” says Lardinois. “It’s about our working conditions, which are our students’ learning conditions. It allows us to sit down with management in a collaborative environment to talk about our work environment and how to help our students.

“When you take away right to say how many students should be in a class, that affects our students’ ability to get the attention they need to be successful. But this is a temporary loss. We are participating in rallies and taking every opportunity to inform the public. We are in the fight of our lives. We’ve lost a battle but there’s a bigger war to win later.”

Joining Lardinois at the White House Monday were Melissa King of the Virginia Education Association and Estelle Moore of the Maryland State Education Association.

View the White House video from the event here:

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