Triangle Shirtwaist Anniversary and Freelancers Today

Mar 25, 2011

There are powerful stories being told (and videos here and here) in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 workers. (The dead, some who jumped and some who burned) were mostly young, female immigrants. The owners locked the fire doors and other exits to ensure the workers didn’t sneak out. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis recalls the story of Frances Perkins, a witness to the fire who would later become our nation’s first Secretary of Labor (and first female cabinet member). Secretary Solis writes that today, even as organized labor faces incredible opposition, “workers want and need that voice . . . .  Collective bargaining still means a seat at the table to discuss issues. . . .” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman notes that some 80,000 farmworkers in New York State have no protection and are vulnerable if they try to unionize. He touts the state’s Wage Theft Protection Act, a law that exposes employers who don’t pay to criminal penalties. Today, Freelancers Union understands these struggles as part of a vital continuum of change and progress to protect workers. We recognize that freelancers, too, are part of the struggle. Because freelancers are a newly formed sector of the workforce, labor laws have not yet caught up with the changing shape of independent workers’ jobs. Although many freelancers don’t have a regular employer, they need still deserve protection when treated unfairly. We hope this year will see the passage of the Freelancer Payment Protection Act, which will give freelancers the same protections that full-time workers enjoy. There is no finish line, no “good enough” when it comes to workers’ rights. As the workplace shifts from the factory to the cubicle to the coffeeshop (or virtually to the “cloud”), we’ll continue to work to make sure freelancers’ voices are heard and someone is speaking up to make freelance fair.