Archive for the ‘History’ Category

A bad way to make a living

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

Every now and then ,we come across a historical site that catches our interest, either because it highlights an industry, a telling event, or some other matter related to work, insurance, or the matters that we tend to discuss here at Workers Comp Insider. Mining’s Legacy – a Scar on Kansas is just such a site. Hosted by the Lawrence Journal-World, the site uses text, video, photography and historical documents to tell the story of the mining industry in Cherokee and Crawford counties. The series chronicles the long-term impact that the industry has had on the landscape and the people of the area.
While the entire site is of interest, both for the historical and the contemporary significance, we found the worker stories to be quite compelling. “It was a bad way to make a living,” says 81 year-old Walter Weinstein, who went to work in the mines at the age of 12. He narrates a slide show that gives a good idea of the working conditions in the mines. It’s an interesting story, and one that will probably offer some perspective on any job annoyances you may have today.
A posting on discussion site Metafilter offers more colorful historical context around the industry, the era, and the geographic region.
The Department of Labor also has a fascinating historical mining exhibit on the Mine Safety and Administration Administration pages, encompassing topics such as the so-called breaker boys, children as young as 8 years old who worked the mines, “Eight Days in a Burning Mine”, the harrowing story of a survivor of the Cherry mine disaster, and pages focusing on the history of Irish, Asian, and Afro-American mine workers.
Not the stuff of yesteryear
Unfortunately, unsafe conditions are not just a matter of historical record. While safety has improved, mining continues to be among the world’s most dangerous professions, both here in the U.S., and in various points throughout the globe. Last year, U.S. coal mine deaths spiked to a 10-year high. Two weeks ago, we had our first U.S. miner death in 2007, and this week, at least 107 miners lost their lives in underground Siberian tunnels and in China, where at least 5,000 die in mining accidents each year, 15 workers perished in a flood and another 26 died in an unrelated explosion.

California: There’s Gold In Them Thar Hills!

Monday, December 18th, 2006

It was George Santayana, the Spanish born American philosopher, poet and humorist, who wrote, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
With that in mind, I’d like to suggest how the history of California’s pioneers and prospectors is an allegory of its workers’ compensation ups and downs over the last 20 years.
Donner Party StormFrom 1840 to 1860 more than half a million people made the dangerous, often perilous, journey from eastern America to California to hunt for prosperity. It was one of the greatest migrations in human history, and, for the most part, it was about gold and humankind’s ancient fascination with it.
Gold means wealth. In the late 1840s, California’s gold was found lying on the ground, just sitting there waiting for someone to pick it up; today, it’s found in the state’s workers’ compensation insurance companies. Right now, those companies are seeing a lot of gold just waiting to be picked up and pocketed. They’re the ones who have survived the perilous economic journey of the last 20 years, or they’re the start-ups taking advantage of the newest gold rush. But from 1995 to 2003, 28 companies died on the quest.. As in the 19th century, only the strong survived.
The First Trek West
During the early and mid-1840s, thousands of people had already made the 2,650 mile journey from east to west, specifically, from Springfield, Illinois to Oregon and from there to California. In early April of 1846, the Donner family was one such group. The Donners weren’t heading to California because of the gold, just for the potential of a better life.
In Independence, Missouri, the Donners joined a number of other migrating families, eventually growing their number of men, women and children to 87. The wagon-train party elected George Donner and Frank Reed its leaders and continued west. It was just outside Fort Bridger that the group made its big mistake: relying on faulty advice, it made a left turn, instead of a right turn, and that made all the difference. That wrong turn took them 125 miles, or 21 days, out of their way. After traveling 2,500 miles in 150 days, the party missed getting over the high Sierras and into California by one day, reaching the steep base of the mountains on 31 October just as an early blizzard arrived. Ultimately, 41 of the 87 perished, the survivors resorting to cannibalism. The Donner party’s calamity showed just how perilous the journey to California could be. Those rescued finally made it to Sacramento in February of 1847, 11 months before the first discovery of gold was to happen very nearby.
Nuggets on the Ground
Gold was discovered in California on the cold, raw morning of 24 January 1848 when James Marshall, building a saw mill for John Sutter, spied a few small nuggets on the banks of the American River at Coloma near what is now Sacramento. Shortly after that, General John Bidwell and Major Pearson Reading discovered gold in the Feather and Trinity rivers, respectively, and the Gold Rush was on. Ultimately, more than half a million people made the difficult journey to California to seek fortune, most of them retracing the Donner party’s footsteps, up until the fateful left turn, that is. At its height, between 1848 and when it came to a crashing end in 1860, prospectors were turning out an astonishing $81 million a year.
After it was over, the prospectors took themselves, their winnings and their women to the next mother-load in Alaska. And the California economy declined for a while.
Getting to the New Boomtown
Like the period from 1840 to 1860, California’s workers’ compensation market has seen huge up and down swings in the last 20 years. 1993 was the year that the legislature and the Commissioner decided to begin tinkering with the state’s 80 year old Minimum Rate system. In that year, California’s direct written premium had peaked to $9 billion, but a series of rate decreases caused premium to drop to $5.7 billion by 1995. And that’s when the state made its own fateful left turn – the minimum rate system gave way to open rating, but without any restraint on medical or legal excesses or abuse. Piranha-like competition drove the system crazy. By 1997, direct written premium was again rising and heading north in a hurry. In fact, during the following seven years, premium rose to nearly $24 billion, and, were it not for a rate decrease of 2.9% ordered in the waning days of the Davis administration, it would have topped $25 billion. Rates had become the highest in the nation averaging more than $6 per hundred dollars of payroll, while benefits to injured workers were among the lowest. By 2005, absent any serious reform, total premium was projected to hit $29 billion, Moreover, the state had suffered through 28 insurer insolvencies making the state fund California’s largest insurer. California’s total premium was higher than many western European nations.
Things had gone from great to terrible. In the late 1980s the profitability of California’s workers’ compensation insurers was almost three times the national average; by the late 90s profitability was non-existent; it had become the lowest in the nation.
Enter Arnold Schwarzenegger. What a difference getting serious about the law can make. Three highly-targeted law changes produced a few gored oxen littering the side of the road, a gargantuan decline in losses and a drop in premium of more than $6 billion. California’s Division of Workers’ Compensation is producing reports to explain how the law changes have worked so well (and, in some cases, how they have not), and I commend all of it for your reading enjoyment.
But here’s what I find interesting – total premium remains in excess of $18 billion, still double the level of 1997.
And that is why there’s a Gold Rush of sorts happening again in California right now. After an eight year, long dark night, California’s workers’ compensation system has become the economic equivalent of Boomtown. Because of those still high rates, insurers (with new entries flying over the Donner Pass by the planeload) are enjoying a combined ratio of less than 80% (64% in 2004, alone; it makes one have a greater appreciation for just how obscene abuses in the system really were). The biggest problem their senior managements have is figuring out if they can get trucks large enough to carry all the money to the bank.
Like the original Gold Rush, these good times will last for a few more years, maybe one or two, three, if everyone’s lucky. After that, we’ll see if carriers, being unable to withstand their newfound and over-the-top profitability, drive the market from feast to famine and, like the Donner Party survivors, once again take to eating their young.
History of UR in CA (PDF)
History of Official Medical Fee Schedule – 1999 to present
Background leading to California reforms (PDF)
Lynch Ryan article on California reforms

Remembering the “labor” in Labor Day

Friday, September 1st, 2006

In all the long weekend holiday plans and back-to-school activities, the true meaning and the origin of Labor Day can be lost in the shuffle. The holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September “… is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” You can read more about the struggles and history that led to the first Labor Day at the Department of Labor site.
What’s the pulse of the American worker today as we head into Labor Day? The New York Times reports that three polls find workers sensing deep pessimism. Most survey respondents indicated that wages are not keeping up with inflation and that conditions are worse than they were a generation ago.

“The nonpartisan Pew center, said, “The public thinks that workers were better off a generation ago than they are now on every key dimension of worker life — be it wages, benefits, retirement plans, on-the-job stress, the loyalty they are shown by employers or the need to regularly upgrade work skills.”

In a poll of 803 registered voters commissioned by the A.F.L.-C.I.O., Peter D. Hart Research found that 55 percent said their incomes were not keeping up with inflation, 33 percent said their incomes were keeping even and 9 percent said their incomes were outpacing inflation.”

With jobs being offshored, outsourced, and downsized, and with technology changing the very nature of how and where we work, it is an unsettling time for many.
Between now and Monday, there may not be a lot employers can do to tackle that deep-seated pessimism, but we think there are some simple things that employers can do to commemorate the holiday, even with the day fast upon us: recommit to providing a safe workplace. Take the time to thank your employees and let them know you value them. We think Labor Day might be a good time of year to issue bonuses, raises, and recognition programs.
A look back – tributes to the American worker
To commemorate Labor Day in the true spirit in which it was meant, we’ve gathered some links to a variety of sites that pay tribute to the American worker.
Labor Arts – a virtual museum that gathers, identifies, and displays historic images of working people and their organizations. The site states that its mission is “to present powerful images that help us understand the past and present lives of working people.”
The Quiet Sickness is a dramatic photo essay by Earl Dotter chronicling hazardous work in America.
Lost Labor – Images of Vanished American Workers 1900-1980 – a selection of 155 photographs excerpted from a collection of more than 1100 company histories, pamphlets, and technical brochures documenting America’s business and corporate industrial history.
Austin at Work is a fascinating site that uses historic images to show the changing nature of work over the ages.
Public History Resource center“From the family in a tenement toiling over piecework to the farmer caring for his crops to the white collar crowds jamming the subway, the images, both textual and visual, and the experiences of work, both paid and unpaid, pervade the human experience and thus our history as well.” This page features links to other sites that tell the story of the American worker.

The Wobblies Versus Starbucks, revisited: Chalk One Up for the Union

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

The U.S. Labor Relations Board issued a finding in favor of the IWW (“Wobblies), in their ongoing effort to organize Starbuck baristas (employees). No, this does not mean that Starbucks has been unionized, or even that an election will take place any time soon. In agreeing to the finding, Starbucks does not admit any fault. However, they have agreed to take a limited number of corrective actions, including:
· The reinstatement of two IWW members, Sarah Bender and Anthony Polanco, who had been discharged for their union activity. Bender’s back pay totals a little over $1,600, with about $50 in interest. Polanco receives $58.87 in back pay, plus $1.99 in interest.
· Starbucks is rescinding its policy that prohibited the sharing of written union information and joining the union on company property. (As we pointed out in our previous blog, Starbuck’s lounge chairs are an excellent place to sit and discuss union strategy.)
· Starbucks has agreed to rescind its national “no-pin” policy. Workers had been banned from wearing IWW pins and had been sent home from work without pay for refusing to take them off. (The agreement does not stipulate whether body piercings containing union logos are acceptable. I await a clarification.)
· Starbucks has agreed to end threats, bribes, and surveillance of union members. (The company apparently did try to promote some organizers, in exchange for their dropping all union activity.)
The full text of the agreement is available here. This document provides a valuable summary of the kinds of union activities that are still protected by law. It’s worth a look.
I’m not sure where this victory stands in the historic struggle for worker rights, but congratulations to the IWW are in order. I would point out that the interest that Polanco received on his back pay ($1.99) will not buy him a latte at Starbucks. If he wants to celebrate with a cup of coffee, he’ll have to go somewhere else.

November: a bloody month in labor history

Monday, November 7th, 2005

If you’re a history buff, then this is a fitting month to root around in the Web’s labor archives since so many seminal events occurred in November. Plus, it just so happens that 2005 marks the 100 year anniversary of the Industrial Workers of the World, more commonly known as “the Wobblies.” My colleague Jon recently wrote a post about the curious juxtaposition of Starbucks vs. IWW, a seemingly anachronistic occurrence. In a similar vein, a recent article in The Toronto Star notes that The Wobblies are stirring and wonders if we need `one big union’ in the global village:
“At the turn of the last century, the very presence of radical giants like two-fisted Big Bill Haywood, social reformer Eugene Debs and silver-haired firebrand “Mother” Jones in one room was enough to make captains of industry gnaw their cigar ends with angst.
But to the latte-swilling, Wal-Mart-shopping, logo-sporting workers of today, the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World – a.k.a. the Wobblies – 100 years ago tomorrow, sounds, well, so awesomely over.
In an age of globalization, when the vast majority of the world’s underpaid, insecure and unemployed people live in conditions that wouldn’t have surprised Charles Dickens, the idea of an expansive cross-border labour movement to unite the workers of the world seems to have gone the way of the doily and the moustache cup.
The Wobblies were free-spirited, often transient, and dedicated to a large social vision,” says Craig Heron, professor of history at York University. “They carried around the union songbook in their back pockets.
Those days of zealous singsongs, all-night debates and pamphlets on the meaning of life as a labourer are light years away from today’s shrinking union population, beleaguered by globalization and bruised by layoffs, cutbacks and wage freezes. And for many of the world’s non-union workers, collective action is as distant, or irrelevant, as water on Mars.”

Talk of singsongs and the free-spiritedness of members might give a false impression of the times in which the Wobblies first made their debut. These events of by-gone Novembers offer a flavor of the era that gave rise to the labor movement:
November 5, 1916 – The Everett Massacre
The I.W.W. was particularly active in the Pacific Northwest in the early years of the last century. They planned a street-speaking event in Everett to show solidarity with striking shingle workers. About 300 members boarded two steamers, but as the boats approached the dock, shots rang out. “On the dock, deputies Jefferson Beard and Charles Curtis lay dying, and 20 others, including the sheriff, were wounded. On the Verona’s deck, Wobblies Hugo Gerlot, Abraham Rabinowitz, Gus Johnson and John Looney were dead and Felix Baran was dying. While the official I.W.W. toll was listed as 5 dead and 27 wounded, as many as 12 Wobblies probably lost their lives, their bodies surreptitiously recovered from the bay at a later date.” You can read more and view primary sources of the event at the Everett Public Library’s Digital Collection.
November 11, 1919 – Centralia Masacre
“On November 11, 1919, a gunbattle erupts during an Armistice Day parade of American Legionnaires in Centralia, leaving four dead and resulting in the lynching of one member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). World War I veterans and other Centralia citizens march on the local headquarters of the IWW, whose members anticipate an attack. Shots are fired, killing veterans Arthur McElfresh, Ben Casagranda, and Warren Grimm and wounding veterans John Watt, Bernard Eubanks, and Eugene Pfister. That night a mob removes imprisoned IWW member Wesley Everest, who was also a veteran, from the town jail and lynches him from the bridge over the Chehalis River.” The University of Washington Libraries offers a collection of primary sources.
November 19, 1915 – Joe Hill shot by firing squad
A labor activist and I.W.W. member, Joe Hill was a famous songwriter whose protest songs were highly popular with workers and a staple on picket lines. While he was in Salt Lake City to organize a strike, a former policeman was shot and killed. Joe was charged with the murder and shot by a firing squad. Protesting his innocence, he had this to say before his death:
“The main and only fact worth considering, however, is this: I never killed Morrison and do not know a thing about it. He was, as the records plainly show, killed by some enemy for the sake of revenge, and I have not been in the city long enough to make an enemy. Shortly before my arrest I came down from Park City; where I was working in the mines. Owing to the prominence of Mr. Morrison, there had to be a “goat” and the undersigned being, as they thought, a friendless tramp, a Swede, and worst of all, an I.W.W, had no right to live anyway, and was therefore duly selected to be “the goat”. I have always worked hard for a living and paid for everything I got, and in my spare time I spend by painting pictures, writing songs and composing music. Now, if the people of the state of Utah want to shoot me without giving me half a chance to state my side of the case, bring on your firing squads – I am ready for you. I have lived like an artist and I shall die like an artist.”
For more on Joe Hill, see the PBS biography, which includes links to song clips and lyrics.

Starbucks vs. IWW: 21st Century Java meets Turn of the Century Union

Monday, June 6th, 2005

When I read that the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) was trying to organize workers at a Manhattan Starbucks, I thought for a moment that I was stuck in a time machine. The IWW still exists? Indeed, the “wobblies” are still with us. They have a website, resplendent in red and full of interesting information. This year marks the union’s 100th anniversary, which, I think it is safe to say, is a little past its peak in terms of interest and participation. They still have articles from two of their most famous supporters, writers Jack London and Helen Keller. A quick review of the archives shows that the truly famous drop off sometime around 1920, but the mission over the next 80 years does not change: the IWW will be satisfied with nothing less than an end to capitalism.
The IWW press release raises some classic issues of poor working conditions, some of which will ring true with those who study the ergonomics of fast food. Starbuck workers serve an enormous volume of beverages, many of them extremely hot. The union claims that in order to save money, management refuses to schedule enough workers to do the required work safely. Instead, workers are forced to perform their duties at unsafe speeds with an undue level of physical exertion.
“A Starbucks coffee shop is an ergonomic minefield. The stores are supposed to mimic an Italian cafe without considering the uncomfortable bending and reaching we have to do, ” explained Barista Anthony Polanco. “This is not your mom and pop coffee shop. We are talking McDonalds busy every day. Starbucks talks about “Creating Warmth” but the only warmth I feel is the heat pad at the end of the day.”
Coffee, Coffee Everywhere
Starbucks is a $15 billion company with over 7,500 locations around the world. According to the union, in New York City Starbucks workers start at $7.75 an hour and eventually receive paltry raises. The union accuses Starbucks of developing a scheme whereby all Baristas work on a part-time basis and are not guaranteed a set number of hours per week, thus making it exceedingly difficult for workers to budget for necessities like rent, utilities, and food.
The union doesn’t address the issue of benefits directly, but it appears that half time (20 hours per week) workers qualify for a fairly robust benefits package, including health, dental and retirement. These benefits certainly have the potential to separate Starbucks employees from those in other fast food industries. However, there may be an issue with scheduling — a few disgruntled employees claimed that managers deliberately scheduled them for just shy of the required 20 hour average, so they were unable to participate in the benefits plan.
Walmart and Starbucks
There may well be some important similarities in all companies seeking to carve out humongous market shares across the globe. Rapid growth is fueled by aggressive pricing (well, I would not say that Starbucks sells a discounted product!), anticipation of consumer demand and, I’m sorry to say, ferociously contained labor costs. One Starbuck employee wonders why it has become fashionable to boycott Walmart for its labor practices, all the while stopping by the local Starbucks for the stimulant of choice. Interesting question, one which cuts into the very heart of the culture wars. Perhaps the privileged classes can survive without Walmart, but not without their Java.
Still, I like to imagine a couple of wobblies huddled for several hours in overstuffed armchairs at their neighborhood Starbucks, nursing a frappachino latte whatever and plotting the end of capitalism. That is still and ever will be the American way.

The worst jobs in history

Saturday, April 2nd, 2005

Some point to the medieval guilds as the origin of workers comp; others see the emergence of workers comp as a response to the industrial revolution when dangerous factory jobs grew more prevalent. But the truth is, hard working laborers have been battling dangerous and unpleasant work conditions from time immemorial. The Worst Jobs in History is a journey through 2,000 years of British history and the worst jobs of each era. It is an alternately amusing and horrifying look back at the types of jobs our forebears held, and a description of the work conditions they faced. So if you ever wondered what it would be like to be a Medieval fuller or leech collector, a Tudor woad dyer or groom of the stool, a Stuart nit-picker or plague burier, or a Victorian rat catcher – now’s your chance to find out. You can even take a skills assessment quiz to see which jobs might be best suit you. Jobs for women were relatively scarce – so if I had a career, it is likely I might have been a wise woman or a fish wife

The Myth of the Molly Maguires

Thursday, March 17th, 2005

I thought it might be an interesting commemoration of my Irish heritage to do a post about work conditions that my forebears faced as they immigrated to U.S. shores after the potato famine. Many were involved in the hard labor of building out the impressive canals, dams, and public works projects of the era. But as can easily happen in web wanderings, my searches took me a bit further afield, yet turning up some documents of note, such as an article in the Irish Examiner entitled “They

Working Girls of Boston: Women at work in the 1880s

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

If you were one of 20,000 women employed in a non-domestic job in Boston in the 1880s, you probably worked a 10-hour day, six days a week and earned $6.03 for your weekly labors. You didn’t have very much time off. If you were among the lucky one in five working women who had any vacation time at all, you probably didn’t get paid. If you had a holiday, you were likely docked in pay. If you worked for one of the larger employers, you might even be docked in pay for being as little as a single minute late to work – in some instances, fines might be levied. And if you needed to be out sick, at least some jobs required that you find a substitute worker.
This profile was garnered from a 130+ page report entitled The Working Girls of Boston that was published in 1989. It’s available online in its entirety from the Harvard University Library. The report was compiled from the 1880 census and from interviews with 1,032 working women.
The report is fascinating. The introduction states that ” … one of the chief reasons for undertaking the investigation, was to determine whether the ranks of prostitution are recruited from the manufactory” so part of the study included canvassing “all the houses of ill repute.” In its summary, the report concludes that ” …the girls … as a class, are honest, industrious and virtuous, and are making an heroic struggle against many obstacles, and in the face of many temptations, to maintain reputable lives.”
Health & safety conditions: the workroom and its surroundings
It’s difficult to get an objective picture of the health and safety conditions in terms of numbers since objective criteria were not used. Women reported on their own health and working conditions. In describing health, terms were often imprecise, such as “delicate,” “robust,” or “middling.” Measurement standards commonly used today were similarly imprecise. One section of the report discusses lost time, stating that 758 girls lost an average of 12.32 weeks of work in the preceding year, but reasons varied, including ” … dull times, lack of work, sickness of self, children or relatives, or on account of machines being out of order and awaiting repairs.”
While most workers described their working conditions as satisfactory to good, a very different picture emerges as you continue reading. Many complained of tiredness from climbing “four, five, six, or even seven flights” to reach higher floors in buildings with poor egress and lack of fire escapes, a foreshadowing of the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory Fire.
Other complaints pointed to the stamina needed for long hours spent standing or operating manually powered equipment. The report focuses less on safety and injuries and more on the overall effects of work on general health, referring frequently to tiredness, nerves, exhaustion, or women being run down and needing rest after being on the job for a period of time. Medical conditions like blood poisoning, consumption, and lung problems were also reported.
Common injuries
There were complaints about poor ventilation and crowded conditions, referencing exposure to dyes that cause “acid sores” on the fingers and dust from sorting feathers, straw, or cotton. Exposure to lead dust in foundries was common and thought to be unhealthy, resulting in “girls and men having little or no color in their faces,” and even some reports of girls having died from the effects. In fish packing plants, girls stood in cold water, and wore the skin off their bare hands from handling fish packed in pepper and saltpeter.
Manufacturing buttons resulted in frequent accidents from catching fingers in machines. They must have been frequent because someone (probably not a doctor) was on hand to treat the resulting injuries

The Original “No Exit” : The Triangle Shirt Waist Factory Fire

Thursday, February 10th, 2005

In the rush of events, we may succomb to the notion that we are constantly seeing things for the first time. In two previous blogs, we mentioned employers who locked exits to prevent theft after hours, leaving cleaning and maintenance crews vulnerable to disaster. Well, the most famous incident of locked exits occurred on March 25, 1911: the Triangle Shirt Waist factory fire in New York City that killed 146 workers, mostly women. The fire led directly to an unlikely alliance between the reform movement and Tammany Hall and became a catalyst for a paradigm shift in safety standards.
We heartily recommend David Von Drehle’s riveting account of the disaster, Triangle: The Fire that Changed America. The paperback version was released recently and is available at your local bookseller or at The book provides a compelling social history of the time. Von Drehle points out how the garment industry had changed from a home-based, free-lance business to huge factory floors in high rise buildings, with row after row of sewing machines. (The ladders of fire trucks were not tall enough to reach the workers nine stories up.) The classic turn-of-the-century “sweat shop” was not just hot — it was the pace of work that caused the sweat. Because the owners feared theft of the popular shirt waists, they locked the doors. Or did they? That became the heart of the criminal trial that followed the disaster.
The story of the criminal trial may be the most intriguing part of the history. Begin with a trial judge who in a prior life had been a Tammany housing commissioner, fired after 20 people died in a tenement fire. His sympathies were clearly with the owners of the company. Then add a brilliant lawyer for the defense, Max Steuer, whose dazzling cross-examinations raised doubts that the doors had been locked (even though it became clear in retrospect that they had). Steuer achieved a legal triple play: his clients were acquitted of criminal negligence charges, they collected the maximum from their insurance companies and they successfully fought off all civil suits. He was the original “dream team” of one.
We are left with shadows of the many victims: mostly immigrants from eastern Europe and Italy. Not satisfied with their anonymous deaths, Von Drehle names as many of them as he can and provides a brief profile of their impoverished lives. At first, over 90 years after the event, I thought this was an exercise in futility. On second thought, I applaud Von Drehle for not allowing these victims of workplace neglect to disappear without a trace.