April ’11 Cleveland Citizen Article

I would like to start off by asking everyone reading this to take a moment and say a prayer for those that have been affected by the disaster in Japan.  The country faces an uncertain future as it deals with the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and ongoing threat of multiple nuclear meltdowns.

Even though it is coming to the end of the school year, it is still the apprentice’s responsibility to get their OJT forms in on time.  If you have not been getting your forms in on time and are three months in arrears, the JATC will be asking for an explanation.  Be prepared to justify your actions.

There is sign up available for another OSHA 10 and Scaffolding class available for Local 17 members.  Call or see Business Agent Tim Moennich for times and dates.

At the March meeting, there was a first reading of proposed By-law changes.  Six of the changes are to make the document consistent with the International By-laws.  The seventh proposed By-law change brings missing a mandatory meeting (November, December and January as well as any specially called meetings) for any other reason than scheduled vacations or work under review of the Executive Board.  The third reading is planned for the May meeting.

There are reports that a team from Akron (Local 45) was caught working in our jurisdiction without informing the hall.  This is a reminder that if you are asked to go out of the locals jurisdiction for any reason, you are required to check in with the business agent of the local in which you are working.

At a meeting of the Cleveland Building Trades, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason talked about the off-shore windmill project.  The contractors are looking to install five to eight windmills three-and-a-half miles north of the crib.  The windmills will produce enough power for eight thousand homes and will be built with all union labor.  When built, these will be the first off-shore windmills in the United States and will position Ohio to be a regional hub for windmill construction, engineering and manufacturing.

As of this writing, Ohio Senate Bill 5, the bill stripping public-sector workers of their collective bargaining rights, just came out of committee in the House where it is sure to be approved and then signed by Governor John Kasich.  Once the legislative battle over SB 5 ends, the rest of the anti-union agenda will be unleashed.  In March 16th radio interview with Mike Trivisonno on Cleveland’s WTAM 1100, Kasich indicated he is looking to exempt municipalities from prevailing wage laws.

Two other pending House bills take aim at private-sector labor rights.  House Bill 61 gives private sector employers with annual sales of less than $500,000 the option of offering employees to use time off in lieu of overtime pay.  House Bill 102 prohibits agencies from entering into project labor agreements (PLA) on any public improvement project and prohibits state money going to local public improvement projects whenever a PLA has been negotiated.

While everyone’s attention is concentrated on Ohio, Wisconsin and neighboring states, the Republicans in Washington have come up with some cuts of their own:

$99 million in cuts for OSHA

$4 billion in job training and employment services

$50 million in cuts to the National Labor Relations Board,

$786 million in cuts to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Part of the reason OSHA and the NLRB exist in the first place is because of the Triangle Shirt factory fire on March 25, 1911.  146 women, mostly Italian and eastern European Jewish  immigrants and some as young as fourteen, died when a fire ripped through the sewing factory just a few minutes short of the end of their day.

At 4:40 PM, a cigarette tossed into a wicker basket of cotton scraps caught fire and gutted the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of the Asch Building in New York City.  At least one of the exits was locked and the other blocked by fire.  The exits were routinely locked to keep workers from stealing product and would only be unlocked at quitting time.

During the frenzy the fire escape collapsed from the weight and bodies piled up on the top of the elevator as workers tried to climb down the ropes.  The greatest loss of life was from smoke and leaping the 100 feet to the pavement below in order to escape the white-hot flames.

The building had been inspected by the city the week before the fire and the owners were cited for the fire escapes.

The International Ladies garment Workers Union (ILGWU), which represented some of the 500 employed at Triangle, set up a $30,000 relief fund for the survivors and the families of the victims.  On April 2 they lead a procession of empty hearses which was joined by 50,000 workers marching in memory of their lost brethren.  They also pushed for increased pay, worker safety and a 52-hour work week for garment workers.

In the aftermath, Triangle owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris were indicted on seven counts of second-degree manslaughter.  After a twenty-three day trial they were acquitted because the prosecutor could not prove they knew the door were locked during working hours.  Twenty-three individual civil suits followed and each was ultimately settled for $75 per life lost.

Days after the fire, Blanck and Harris set up shop a few blocks away and were cited for blocking exits, the same reason given for the massive loss of life at the fire site.  When in court, the judge apologized to the pair for the $25 fine.  The company eventually closed and to their deaths, Blanck and Harris presented their operations as models of safety and cleanliness.

When reforms in fire safety, working conditions and child labor laws were written in the years leading up to the formation of the NLRB in 1936 and OSHA in 1970, they were written in the blood of the 146 who died and the tears of those that survived.

This, my brothers and sisters, is part of our union heritage and why public and private sector unions still play an important role in worker safety and quality of life.