Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks for Secretary Hilda L. Solis
Triangle Shirtwaist Memorial
Friday, March 25, 2011
New York, NY
Good afternoon everyone! Buenas tardes!
And thank you Bruce for that kind introduction. It's great to be here with you and with Mary Kay Henry.
You know, last year, when you and my good friend Christina Vasquez asked me to be here, I didn't hesitate. Though I didn't know it would be 30 degrees!
I knew immediately that I wanted to be with all of you to honor this important occasion. So thank you so much for inviting me here today.
And thank you for keeping the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire alive for so many of us.
It is an important story. On that spring afternoon, the sound of frantic screams and wailing fire truck bells awakened the conscience of America.
The fire opened our eyes to the tragic consequences of wretched working conditions.
And, as the smoke settled that day, the scene revealed a workplace unfit for any human being one absent of security, dignity and respect for those workers.
In 28 brief minutes, 146 workers mostly young women and girls were killed….146 reminders that we could and should be better.
And today, only steps away from the Triangle Factory, we remember the lives of these workers. We honor them for the high price they paid for the protections we enjoy today.
We are reminded that we must always protect our most vulnerable workers; we must provide safeguards and a safety net for all workers; and yes, we must ensure that all workers have a voice at the table.
We must be a nation that catches all workers before they fall.
Two years ago, when I took this job, I vowed to enforce the laws of this nation for all working people especially for our most vulnerable.
I did that not only because it was the necessary and right thing to do.
I did it because I know what it's like to be vulnerable.
I've been learning these lessons all of my life.
I learned them as a young girl, raised with humble means by hard-working, immigrant parents.
And like the workers at the Triangle factory, my parents desperately needed safeguards and protections to ensure a fair wage and a safe workplace to give my brothers, sisters and I a better life. And they had this because they had a union.
I learned these lessons as a state senator in California, when in my district, 75 Thai immigrant workers were freed from a sweatshop.
They had been kept as indentured servants to sew clothes for less than 2 dollars an hour.
Cristina was there. She saw it. And she helped me. Heck, I practically worked out of her office.
I had thought that sweatshops were a thing of the past. But I was wrong. They had in fact just spread from factories in New York City to cellars in Los Angeles.
And I'm still learning these lessons everyday as Labor Secretary.
Today, as we commemorate the lives of the workers lost at Triangle, we must also remember the 29 miners that perished in the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia almost a year ago…or the 11 workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf Coast..or the construction workers who are injured or die on the job everyday.
They are all modern-day reminders of the work we still have to do and the very reasons why we can't stop fighting until every worker is safe and secure on the job!
Whether it's OSHA I know you're here today coming to investigate a workplace injury.
Or MSHA saying no to a hazardous coal mine.
Or my Wage and Hour Division I know you're here today too fortified with hundreds of new investigators who speak multiple languages coming into factories to make sure workers keep what they earn.
You can rest assured: The Department of Labor is back in the enforcement business!
And I'm proud that so many of my staff are with me today.
They join me today because we all believe that no worker should be met with abuse and injustice on the job. No worker should have to worry about keeping what they earn. No worker should go to work afraid that they won't make it home safe after their shift.
Today as well, we honor workers in communities all across the country protesting loudly the actions to strip them of collective bargaining of their right to have voice in the workplace.
The Triangle Fire and the explosion at Upper Big Branch make it very clear to me that workers need that voice about wages and benefits, yes, but about more, too.
When workers have a voice their working conditions are better and their workplaces are safer.
The bottom line is unions have helped ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to achieve the middle class.
Whether they work in sewing factories or mines, care for our neighbors, or teach our children.
Whether they build tall buildings or clean them. Whether they run into burning buildings when others run out of them.
Through their unions, workers have a voice in their future and most importantly, in all of ours!
So tomorrow, when the anniversary is past and all the cameras have gone, let us not forget the lessons we've all learned from the fire at Triangle.
Let us move forward reminded yet again that, as a nation, we can and will do better in the lives of all working people.
For the workers that lost their lives that afternoon, for their families, and for all who have come after them, let us pledge to never give up our fight for justice.
Like Mother Jones, let us continue to honor the dead and fight like hell for the living!
Thank you! God bless you! And Godspeed