Archive for the ‘General’ Category
Frances Perkins was galvanized by personally witnessing the horrifying Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911, in which 146 young workers died. From that time onward, she worked to create legislation that would provide safeguards for workers, going from New York’s Factory Investigation Commission to FDR’s Cabinet as secretary of labor from 1933 – 1945.
Almost 100 years after the Triangle fire, the issue of worker safety is still in the news, most recently with the tragedies at the Massey mine in West Virginia and the British Petroleum oil rig blast.
Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research and speaker at the Frances Perkins Center’s 2009 conference, “The New New Deal,” has written several articles for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog, “Brainstorm,” about these recent disasters. In Who Needs Pesky Unions, Ghilarducci wrote:
All the recent disasters are in non-union mines. Union muscle make companies work better and safer. One reason is that, in union contracts, mine workers are protected from being disciplined if they stop work because of unsafe conditions. If a union miner says, “Hey, the belt is about to catch fire — I’m getting out of here,” he (or she) can’t be fired.
Humans in the 20th century learned to mine coal without carnage. Britain does it, Germany does it, and other countries do too. In Europe and Japan, computer sensors detect methane buildup and mining companies have to hire safety officers who are in their own union and who only monitor safety, not production. In American mines, the supervisors have to monitor safety and be responsible for production. Guess what goal is number one!?
And in More Energy Workers Killed, she wrote:
The causes of these deaths are not freak gassy build ups—as if the earth violently struck back at humans for using fossil fuels…
The cause of worker deaths is a plain old economic deal. The government made a deal that BP and Massey Coal can operate in the United States without adequate precautions for making the workplace tolerably safe.
If Frances Perkins were alive, she’d be voicing her outrage along with Ghilarducci. It’s shocking that the U.S. is far behind other countries in protecting our workers.
By Sichu Mali, summer intern
Last Wednesday evening, I was listening to Ed Desgrosseilliers at the 2009 Watering Can Awards Celebration program as he was presenting The Social Landscape Artist Award to Kevin and Judy Simpson. I was impressed with the vigor that the Simpson couple brought to the stage.
What struck me the most about them was the sheer amount of time that they had dedicated to social justice causes. They have been involved in civil rights and community service for well over four decades. In the 1960s, they had worked with National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Congress On Racial Equality to end school segregation and housing discrimination. Besides striving for racial equality, they had also advocated for peace and non violence. They had been active in the movement to bring U.S. troops home from Vietnam. Besides, they had led the local chapter of Neighbor to Neighbor while disapproving U.S.-funded violence in Central America. Their commitment to social justice has been not limited to race and peace issues. Lately, they have joined Maine People’s Alliance and are now campaigning for single-payer health care, fair taxation and the Employee Free Choice Act- an act that would amend the National Labor Relations Act to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts.
One could not help but be touched with their unwavering determination. Even after all these years, they are still actively pushing for social and economic reforms. Their faith in a progressive society still remains strong. As Judy would say, “Injustice is not a permanent feature of the world. We just keep at it and along the way, we manage to inspire others.”
The issues championed by the Simpsons were the issues Frances Perkins had defended throughout her life. Minimum wage, collective bargaining, employment assistance, social security and unemployment insurance were the topics that Frances included in the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Social Security Act when she drafted them. At Frances Perkins Center, we honor her vision and serve to raise awareness of Frances’s work. As a part of a project for this event, I put together an exhibit about Frances Perkins and the Frances Perkins Center which is displayed below: