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Posted on: Dec 12, 2018

In the late afternoon of Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire started in a fabric scrap bin at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Approximately 30 minutes later, 146 employees of the company died as a result of the eventual conflagration.

The disaster's impact on the improvement of working conditions for employees cannot be overstated.

Of course, the social program which we all hold near and dear to our hearts, workers' compensation, was not in existence in 1911 America. However, not coincidentally, the New York legislature did create its state's first workers' compensation program shortly after the tragedy. California followed suit in 1913 with the passage of the Boynton Act, which was replaced in 1917 by the Workmen's Compensation Insurance and Safety Act (our state's current compensation law).

The nationwide trend of reforming workers' compensation laws to the workers' detriment caught the attention of several US Senators in 2015, causing them to write a joint letter to the Department of Labor Secretary encouraging him to investigate individual state programs. The Senators expressed fear that there is a nationwide "race to the bottom" among the states regarding the benefits that employers are required to provide to injured workers.

It is unspeakably tragic that 146 people had to die in order to compel politicians to enact sweeping workplace safety protections and comprehensive workers' compensation programs. Hopefully the rights that workers have acquired over the last 107 years will avoid further erosion so that their deaths will not have been in vain.

Editor's note: This post contains excerpts from an article appearing in the Workers' Compensation Quarterly that was drafted by Justin Sonnicksen, co-chair of CAAA's Amicus Committee. To view the full article, click here.