Friday, March 25, 2011

Why We Need Employee Protections, Regulations and Unions we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire on March 25, it’s sobering to realize many of the lessons we thought had been absorbed must be re-learned again. And again. The Triangle fire, a symbol of unfettered Gilded Age greed, still stands burning before us—from lack of job safety and health protections, to neglect of the conditions endured by immigrant workers to the fundamental ability of workers to form unions and bargain for a better life.

Quality of life, job safety, health, a 40-hour work week, sick pay, medical leave, healthcare benefits and vacation are just some of the reasons unions were fundamental in establishing workers rights in the United States, and despite a misinformed populace brainwashed for decades against them, unions are vital for the continued safety of the American workforce.

Point to the Triangle Shirtwaist factory tragedy 100 years ago today and you'd think things have changed drastically, and they have. But it doesn't mean that events like that are no longer possible. Less than one year ago, 29 coal miners were killed in an explosion at a mine owned by Massey Energy in West Virginia. That tragedy could have been avoided had regulations been enforced. And to a lesser extent, look at all the hoopla surrounding the Broadway show Spiderman. Would we be hearing about their injury record if it weren't for safety regulations required by unions, OSHA and the NLRB?

At the height of American union membership in the 1950's, 34% of the non-agricultural workforce in the private sector were represented by unions. Today, that number hovers at around 7% with that decline starting in the 1980's. That the disparity of wealth continues to accumulate toward the top one percent of the country while middle class wages remains stagnant during that same time period is no coincidence. But wages are never the only issue.

Left unchecked, free market advocates will always look at the bottom line when taking the health and welfare of its workforce into consideration. In this new century that is unacceptable. And one party over another will side with the corporations over the country's citizens every time. And that too is unacceptable.

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