March 26, 2015
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—Yes they should, according to Edgar Romney of Workers United because a lot still needs to be done to make workplaces in this country and around the world safer.
Labor leaders and members gathered at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street where in 1911 146 garment workers perished in the top three floors of a nine-story building when a fire that started in a rag bin rapidly spread. Many of the victims were immigrant women who jumped to their deaths to avoid the flames. In the accompanying video, we interviewed Edgar Romney, secretary-treasurer with Workers United SEIU and asked him about the significance of commemorating the 104th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.
“This is extremely important not just for Workers United SEIU but for all of the labor movement. We come together today to commemorate and remember the people who lost their lives back in 1911. We also recall the struggle that workers made back in those days and think about what we have to do to continue to make the workplace safer, fight for decent wages and for the rights and dignity for workers today," said Romney.
The tragedy helped paved the way for labor legislation on the local and national level that strengthened worker safety laws in the manufacturing sector throughout the country. But we asked Romney why should today’s workfolk care about what happened 104 years ago.
“It’s important for them that they know this history and not forget it. But the reality is there is a lot of work that still needs to be done in workplaces, not just in this country but around the world people are suffering as a result of the lack of workplace safety. Take a look at places like Rana Plaza in Bangladesh and Cambodia where people have lost their lives to building collapses. All of that is a result of manufacturers and retailers here in the United States offshoring their work. We’re demanding that they [improve] their working conditions overseas,” said Romney.
We then asked Romney how does he and organized labor make the case to workfolk that what happens in overseas factories is still important to them. For starters, he said that workfolk could ask retailers when they go shopping where does their apparel come from. “When they go into retail stores they can ask under what conditions are these garments being made. Ninety percent of the apparel sold in this country today is made someplace else. They can also check the Internet and find out which companies are making their garments and demand that the workers there are working under safe environments,” Romney said.