March 25, 2016
By Art Wilcox, Workers’ Protection and Compensation Coalition
New York, NY – It is extremely ironic that the negotiation of the New York State Budget is taking place in late March and that weaved into the process is an attempt to further complicate the New York State Workers’ Compensation System for injured workers.
The reason for the irony is that March 25th marks the anniversary of the infamous Triangle Shirt Waste Fire in New York City. On March 25, 1911, 146 workers perished in a fire that was the worst industrial disaster in New York State until 9/11.
Of the 146 dead were 123 young women between the ages of forty three and fourteen. Most of these women were Jewish and Italian immigrants. Many of their families fought for benefits to cover at least the burial of their daughter, sister, or mother. Some were buried together in a mass grave and many relied on the Hebrew Free Burial Association. As a result of this tragedy, safe workplace laws and the Workers' Compensation System was implemented, due largely to the efforts of Al Smith the Speaker of the Assembly, Robert Wagner Majority Leader of the Senate and Frances Perkin the Labor Commissioner.
Unfortunately just as the ashes of the inferno have disappeared, so too has the commitment of the Workers' Compensation Board to assure protection for injured workers—particularly immigrants who do not speak English—similar to the ones who perished in the Triangle Factory Fire in 1911. New York State needs to renew its commitment to injured workers, to renew its commitment to labor rights and social justice. New York State needs to hear the call of the loved ones of those who died on March 25th over a hundred years ago; a call for a just, no-fault workers’ compensation system that is accessible to everyone who gets injured on the job.
The time has come that the race to the bottom for workers in the NYS Workers' Compensation System cease; that reforms stop being driven soley by the desire to improve employer bottom lines by making workers’ industrial cannon folder; that the mission of the Workers Compensation Board, which was so designed by the moans and screams of the young women in that factory be remember and followed.
We must abandon these inhumane and callous proposals and work together to make the deaths of young immigrant workers be remembered in reforms of our system to respect fairness, justice and the tremendous risk that workers face on the job every day.