Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

So Tired of Hearing About Small Business Owners Hating Democrats

Here's what I learned from my family-owned business: some bosses really want to take care of the people making them money, and some people are just interested in making money.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire centennial was last week--on March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers died in a terrible industrial accident. The workers died either by jumping to their deaths, or by the collapse of fire escape stairs, or by leaping down elevator shafts, or by burning to death on the factory floor.

The workers were mostly young women. Immigrants. Teenagers. The previous year--1910--the workers of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory had gone on strike, had tried to form a union. A year later, they were dropping to their deaths on Greene Street.

I took a walking tour of Greenwich Village once, and when we got to the location of the old Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building (known then, ironically enough, as the Asch Building), the walking tour leader said this: "Now if you'll look over my shoulder, you'll see a spot of death and doom. That, ladies and gentlemen, is where young women plummeted to their deaths. Imagine, if you will, the billowing dresses highlighted by the fire of the burning building as one by one each young woman hurled herself from the eighth floor window into space. Imagine, if you will, the wet thud of those billowy young women hitting the sidewalk."

The place was once known as the Asch Building. It's now the Brown Building. I do not think that's an improvement.

Anyway. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was owned by Isaac Harris and Max Blanc, two men so terrible in running a company that they'd charge employees for mistakes made in the production of their product. They also charged employees for the materials required to make the product--needles, thread, machines, etc. Fortunately this was 1911, so Issac and Max didn't bother to charge employees for the contents of the break room since there was no break room. Max and Issac's employees worked 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, without benefit of a break.

Max and Isaac were terrified the young girls they paid $2/week would steal supplies so they posted TSA-like thugs to search each woman. There were two exits from the factory: Greene Street and Washington Place. Max and Isaac locked the Wash Place exit, and posted TSAish Thugs at the Greene Street exit. When the fire hit, the Greene Street exit was the first to burn.

For nearly 100 years, there's been a Mitchell Printing. Mitchell Printing will never be Standard Oil. It'll never be Triangle Shirtwaist, either. Mitchell Printing has several exits. Employees will have a few options to run for their lives.

Incidentally, Triangle Shirtwaist ceased to exist after the immolation of nearly 150 employees.

It only lasted 20 years. Mitchell Printing, which is nearly a century old, has yet to kill an employee.

Some companies aren't concerned with employee safety. Some are.

I'd like to think my own family business, small though it is, is determined to take care of its employees. Take responsibility.

What amazes me is people employed by others do not make the same assumption.

Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.

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