From a Concern to a Calling



The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire which caused the death of many workers was a time of transformation for Frances Perkins.
Prior to that fire she had lobbied for workers rights and on behalf of the poor, but the horror of that conflagration became for her a summons to dedicate her life with prayerful zeal that workers might have safe and decent working conditions.
Along with other people she fought for the elimination of unsafe working conditions and was appointed to the New York state safety commission where she continued that fight.
She was subsequently appointed the New York State Industrial Commissioner.
After the 1932 national election, President Elect Roosevelt asked her to become his Secretary of Labor. She said yes if the President would commit to massive unemployment relief, public works programs, minimum wage laws, social Security insurance and the abolition of child labor.
As Labor Secretary she drafted such legislation, using as her primary handbook “A Living Wage,” written by Father John Augustine Ryan, a strong advocate for social Justice.
Such legislation became law in the 1930s.
My hope is that the enjoyment of Labor Day will not blind us to the oppressive conditions which many workers continue to experience and that we will be reminded that our Faith calls us to do our utmost to embrace social justice.

Father Thomas O’Neill, Senior Priest