100 years ago, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire captured the attention of a nation when a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. Many workers were trapped and others jumped to their death to try to escape the flames. 146 died in the fire, mostly women, in a grisly public spectacle. Since then American businesses have come a long way in improving safety, fire and health regulations. Below is a quick look at some of the milestones.
June 30, 1911 – The Factory Investigation Committee
In response to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the Factory Investigation Committee was established by the New York Legislature. They investigated safety conditions in factories, including fire safety and sanitation. Not only did field workers carry out inspections, but the Committee also held hearings on safety and related matters.
The information gathered from these hearings and from many interviews and questionnaires was compiled into reports used to recommend sanitation and safety improvements to the Legislature. In part due to the powerful men on the commission, many of their recommendations became law starting in 1913.
1912 – Cooperative Safety Council Meets
The first Cooperative Safety Council meets, composed of industrial leaders, and decides to form a permanent group with the goal of promoting worker safety.
1913 – The General Wage Investigation and Creation of The Department of Labor
The Factory Investigation Committee was charged with examining industry wages and providing guidelines regarding minimum wage. Their report was turned in on February 1915 and highlighted the fact that many women and child laborers didn’t make a living wage. They recommended a Wage Commission to establish minimum wage. This recommendation was not followed.
1913 was a big year for safe labor not just in New York, but nationally as well. On March 4, 1913, the Department of Labor was signed into law. The Department was charged with looking after the welfare of workers.
1916-1922 – Child Labor Laws Passed, Struck Down
In 1916, the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act passed. It banned the sale of products made with child labor, though age varied depending on the industry. Though its power came from laws regulating interstate commerce, the Supreme Court ruled it had overstepped those powers and overturned in it 1918.
In a second attempt, the 1918 Child Labor Tax Law was passed later that year using taxes to regulate child labor, but that law was also overturned in 1922.
1935 – Social Security Act Passes
This act was life changing for American workers. It established an old-age and survivor’s retirement fund financed by current workers. It also provided unemployment wages.
July 5, 1935 – Wagner Act (National Labor Relations Act)
Part of FDR’s New Deal, this bill established a National Labor Relations Board and emphasized the rights of workers to organize and join unions. These rights included collective bargaining. Union membership soared.
1938 – Fair Labor Standards Act
This act dealt with minimum wage and overtime, among other things. It also, finally, succeeds in regulating child labor. It is still in effect today.
1941 – Fair Employment Practice In Defense Industries Executive Order
FDR issued this primarily to protect the rights of African American workers in defense industry jobs, stating that there shouldn’t be discrimination due to “race, creed, color, or national origin.” In 1945, Executive Order 9980 and 9981 similarly banned discrimination in the military and in the federal workforce.
1963 – Equal Pay Act
Abolishes – or tries to – wage discrimination based upon gender.
1970 – Occupational Health And Safety Act
The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 was passed to regulate safety standards and ensure that workplaces were not hazardous. It also created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
1977 – Federal Mine Safety and Health Act
This Act requires the Department of Labor to inspect mines, set safety and health standards, investigate complaints and generally look after the welfare of miners.
1993 – Family and Medical Leave Act
Allows covered employees to take a limited job-protected leave and retain health insurance for various medical or family emergency reasons.
June 15, 2006 – Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006
This new law updates and improves the 1977 Mine Safety and Health Act, continuing to improve safety and health standards for miners.