Monday, March 28, 2011

Labor to Push for More Fire Protection at NYC Factories

Labor groups in New York City are planning to march to protest for better working conditions, particularly more fire protection, as city officials investigate the cause of Saturday's blaze that killed at least 143 and prepare for the burial of those victims who could not be identified.

The investigators have so far determined that the fire started due to a lit match or cigarette, but it may have spread due to an explosion of cleaning compound kept near the ignition source.  This explosion may have spread the fire beyond what workers near the source of the fire could control. Additional scrutiny is being given to an interior stairwell that could have been used by works to exit the burning factory.  While the stairwell itself was sufficient fireproof as to eliminate the need for external fire escapes, the doors to it were not, composed of flammable wood.  Worse, the doors may have been locked to prevent workers from stealing scraps of clothing when they left work every day. 

However, these violations had not been reported prior to the fire and were not found by either the Bureau of Buildings nor the Board of Sanitary Control of the cloak, waist, and suit trade.  This contrasts with the more than 13,000 buildings in Manhattan and the Bronx where fire code violations had been found during a recent sweep by inspectors.  District Attorney Charles Whitman placed blame for the tragedy on the Bureau of Buildings while Manhattan borough president George McAneny defended Bureau Superintendent Miller and his assistant, stating that no complaint had been made on the Asch Building.  According to the New York Tribune, Miller's assistant, Albert Ludwig said that the improper inspections were due to the "inadequate force at the bureau's disposal."

D.A. Whitman also pointed at the State Labor Commission as another source of blame for the tragedy.  The commission has the responsibility of overseeing the safety of factory employees in New York state.  A commission inspection of the Asch Building occurred as recently as February 27.  The state inspector found the building to be in good condition, and even if violations were found, the State Commissioner told the Tribune that the State Labor Commission can only issue recommendations and has no enforcement power.

While the finger pointing continues at the local and state level and plans for an April grand jury develop, labor activists and suffragists in New York City are planning a protest and general strike later this week as the city plans to bury the victims of the fire who could not be identified.  They plan to protest for new laws to provide for more fire protection for factory employees.

As of this morning, the Red Cross Fund for the families of the victims of Saturday's fire has risen to $15,000, including a $5,000 donation from Andrew Carnegie.

Link: Labor to Demand Fire Protection [The Washington Times]
Link: Seek to Fix Blame for Disaster and To Avert a Worse One [New York Tribune]

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