Several months after advocates unveiled a permanent memorial to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the annual ceremony marking the date of one of the nation’s most deadly and consequential industrial disasters returned to lower Manhattan for its 113th anniversary.

Union organizers, frontline workers and politicians gathered to honor the 146 young workers killed in the 1911 factory fire and reflected on how the labor movement in the U.S. has developed since the events of the fire, which ended up spurring labor organization and leading to new worker protections.

Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Center Labor Council, AFL-CIO, emphasized the connection between the events of the fire and the resurgence in collective action among workers.

“It’s about advocacy. It’s about making sure that we do more for the future of worker safety and worker rights. Last year we saw about 70,000 workers across the city engaging in strikes and in other actions,” he said “We want higher wages. We want more meaningful benefits. And of course, better health and safety and workplace protections.”

The yearly event is organized by The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition and Workers United, the SEIU affiliated union with its roots in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for regulations in the wake of the disaster. It’s also the union that represents the roughly 10,000 Starbucks workers who have unionized since 2021 and formed a core part of the recent wave of new organizing.

In his remarks, Edgar Romney, the secretary-treasurer of Workers United and emcee of the ceremony, highlighted the recent commitment the coffee giant has made toward working on a collective bargaining framework. Arianna Ayala, an organizer and Starbucks partner in New York City spoke about the lessons the historical tragedy of the fire has to teach young union organizers.

“This is why we need to keep fighting,” Ayala said, “Why we should not be afraid to make risks and speak out against companies and workplaces that are being unethical and unfair because then we can bring ourselves to a table and start dismantling the system that has been built to oppress.”

This year was the first shirtwaist commemoration to take place in front of the installation of a steel memorial that tells the history of the tragedy on the building that housed the Triangle Factory — now an NYU facility.

The factory was largely staffed by young, female Jewish and Italian immigrants who worked to produce women’s blouses. By the time the workers on the ninth floor of the building got word of the fire, flames prevented them from descending from one stairway and the other stairway was locked – a common practice at the time that prevented workers from taking unauthorized breaks. In less than half an hour, 146 young workers died — most from burns, asphyxiation or the impact of jumping out of the ninth story window or down the elevator shaft.

Both the New York state Labor Commissioner and NYC Fire Department Commissioner discussed how the aftermath of the tragedy continues to inform the work they do on a daily basis.

“This tragedy challenges all of us to continue to do our part, to stand together, to unite, to fight for safety. And that is one of the top priorities of the Department of Labor because we believe that no worker should ever suffer this horrific fate again,” Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said.

Members of UFCW Local 1500 gather at the Triangle Fire memorial
Members of Local 338 gather at the Triangle Fire memorial
Edgar Romney of Workers United emcees the fire memorial
Arianna Ayala, a Starbuck Workers U … Organizer speaks at the memorial
FDNY hoists a ladder to the ninth floor.


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