Immoral owners ignored basic worker’s rights. Exceptionally hazardous working conditions, ridiculous long hours, and low wages were the lives of the workers at the Triangle Waist Company.
Most workers were women immigrants seeking a better life in the United States. Speaking out would end with the loss of their needed jobs, forcing them to suffer personal indignities and severe mistreatment. Because of the poor working conditions the Women’s Trade Union League helped the younger women workers go on strike.
This incident sparked a spontaneous walkout of its 400 employees. An agreement was made that established grievance system in the garment industry after the cloak maker’s strike of 1910. A fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building in the Triangle Waist Company on March 25, 1911. Terrified workers were helpless with their efforts to open the ninth floor doors which led to the Washington Place Stairs.
Owners locked the exit doors claiming that workers stole supplies.The ninth floor fire escape led nowhere and it could not handle the weight of the workers trying to escape. Others waited to be rescued only to find the firefighters’ ladders were too short which kept any water from the hoses from reaching the top floors. The last option for the workers was to jump.
After the fire many concerns about health and safety arose. Groups like the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and the Women’s Trade Union League fought for better working conditions and protective legislation.The fire showed how insufficient fire inspections and precautions were at the time.
This tragedy could have been prevented with the correct precautions. Protesters arose, puzzled and angry at the absence of concern and the greediness that made this possible. People were demanding restitution, justice, and action that would protect the weak and the troubled. Workers quickly went to union quarters with demands of having the Triangle owners Harris and Blanck brought to trial.
Clearly, strong unions could have a strong role in helping prevent tragedies. Workers who were organized in powerful unions would be more aware of their rights and better able to attain safe working conditions. The trial against Blanck and Harris concluded with a not guilty verdict. They are found guilty of locking the doors with a chain during working hours with 150 women still inside the building. The New York state legislature established the Factory Investigating Commission to investigate safety and working conditions.The Factory Investigating Committee proposed eight bills which were passed by the New York legislature. The bills included sanitation, the work of women who had given birth, rest periods, child labor, hours of work for women and children, and injuries obtained on the job. Later the committee recommended twenty-eight new bills, twenty-five of which were passed.
These bills established harsher punishment for violations of the labor law and the industrial code, and focused on the conditions that led to the fire.