New York, NY – On this week’s episode of LaborPress’ Blue Collar Buzz we introduce you to “Fire”, a new off-

“Fire” playwright Debra Whitfield.

Broadway play performing this month based on the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and “iWalk4Meso”,  the new campaign to combat mesothelioma, an insidious disease afflicting thousands of workers each year. We also discuss the future of app-based employment with IDG founder Jim Conigliaro, Jr. and new ideas to fix New York’s ailing subway system with NYS Assembly Member Robert Carroll. [Listen Below]

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire which killed 146 in March of 1911, ignited a spate of important reforms that have had an enormous impact on today’s labor movement. But before that campaign could be launched, there were dramatic court cases involving the unscrupulous factory owners and the horror they unleashed on the garment workers in their employ.

Debra Whitfield, writer/producer of the new play “Fire” now playing at the Theatre 54 @ Shelter Studios & Theatres on West 54th Street, digs deep into the story.

“The reason that the [Triangle] owners were acquitted is because [prosecutors] couldn’t prove that they knew the doors were locked. They couldn’t prove it — even though [the owners] locked the doors every day,” Whitfield says. “The [workers] on the Washington Place side, when they saw the doors were locked, they ran to the Greene Street side, but by the time they got there the fire was too hot — that’s why they had to jump from the 8th ,9th or 10th floors, or they burned to death, or they were overcome by the smoke.”

Fires alone do not make the workplace deadly — not by a long shot. And on this week’s Blue Collar Buzz, Local 12 Heat & Frost Insulators Union Fund Manager Al Wassell, talks about how asbestos is still wreaking havoc on the lives of thousands of workers each year.

“Sixty-percent of the people who get Mesothelioma die within the first year — there are no survivors,” Wassell says. “It attacks the lining of the heart, the lungs and abdomen. Just one fiber of asbestos can cause Mesothelioma or other cancer-related diseases.”

Thankfully, the iWalk4Meso virtual campaign is helping to raise much-needed funds to confront the disease.

“You can continue to do the virtual walk by going to the Facebook page [iWalk4Meso], taking a picture of yourself walking, and posting it on that Facebook page,” Wassell explains. “The law firm Weitz & Luxenberg will donate money to Mesothelioma research on your behalf. So, you don’t have to do anything other than take a picture.”

It may sound startling, but the amount of people finding work through apps like Uber and Lyft is about to explode.

“Within five years, you’re going to have somewhere around 200,000 workers in New York getting work through platforms — whether that’s cleaning houses or doing plumbing or painting or picking up somebody’s groceries,” IDG founder Jim Conigliaro Jr. tells Blue Collar Buzz.

Right now, much of the work is coming from driving for app-based outfits like the aforementioned Uber and Lyft — and those workers are in a pitch battle to eke out a living while the heads of those companies get richer.

“Although New York City has one of the more regulated for-hire vehicle industries — this is an industry where, for the most part,

Local 12’s Al Wassell.

there are a couple of companies that have control of the entire industry and dictate the terms on how workers make a living; how much money they bring home; and how many hours they work,” Conigliaro says.

The bulk of New Yorkers still rely on the subway system to get to work — but the system is in crisis, and Assembly Member Robert Carroll [D-44th District] believes he has a plan to fix it.

“We need to make sure that we have an MTA commissioner who’s actually going there and spending our money wisely — that’s his job and that’s the MTA board’s job. If we don’t have good leadership, then it doesn’t matter how much money we spend.”

LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” airs every Sunday night from 9 to 10 p.m. on AM970 The Answer. Listen online at, or check out the library of past episodes at


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