Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: Laborers

Get to Know AFL-CIO’s Affiliates: Laborers

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the Laborers.

Name of Union: Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA)

Mission: To help working men and women unite for a stronger voice in the economies and governments of the United States and Canada. As an affiliate of the AFL-CIO and North America’s Building Trades Unions, LIUNA works predominantly to help construction craft laborers improve their lives through collective bargaining, organizing, training programs, safer job sites and the enforcement of workers’ rights.

Current Leadership of Union: Terry O’Sullivan became the general president of LIUNA in 2000 and has since been elected to three terms. He first joined the union in 1974. He served in several previous positions, including vice president and Mid-Atlantic regional manager; assistant to the general president; chief of staff; Tri-Funds administrator; assistant director of the Construction, Maintenance and Service Trades Department; and administrator of the West Virginia Laborers’ Training Center. O’Sullivan is a San Francisco native. Armand E. Sabitoni serves as general secretary-treasurer and as New England regional manager. In addition to O’Sullivan and Sabitoni, LIUNA is governed by a 14-member general executive board.

Number of Members: 500,000

Work Members Do: Construction of highways, bridges, tunnels, transit systems, buildings, industrial plants and manufacturing facilities; construction and maintenance of energy infrastructure, including renewable energy projects, pipelines, and natural gas and nuclear plants; environmental remediation of lead, asbestos and other hazardous materials; weatherization and landscaping. In addition, the union represents 70,000 public service employees who provide health care services, maintain parks and, through the affiliated National Postal Mail Handlers Union, process mail.

Industries Represented: Construction and public service. These working men and women are employed by various agencies, including the Postal Service, the Indian Health Service, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Park Service. 

History: The first recognized union for laborers was formed in Philadelphia in 1836. In 1903, American Federation of Labor President Samuel Gompers called for a convention to establish an international union of construction laborers and the International Hod Carriers and Building Laborers’ Union was founded. (A hod is a tray connected to a pole handle that is used to shoulder loads of construction materials, such mortar or brick.)

At its first convention, the union represented more than 8,000 laborers in 17 different cities, most of whom were immigrants seeking a better life. In 1912, the union changed its name to the International Hod Carrier’s Building and Common Laborers of America. By the end of the decade, the union had nearly 550 locals and more than 96,000 members. As the union grew, it became a stronger voice for immigrant and African-American workers. In the 1920s, the union chartered its first public sector local.

Pensions were a key issue for laborers before World War II. Most members worked for multiple contractors during their careers, making it impossible to earn pensions. The union established portable multi-employer plans, which have helped secure retirement for millions of working people.

During World War II, the union suspended all dues and pledged full support for the National Defense Program. By 1941, membership neared 300,000. After the war, a massive construction boom helped membership exceed 430,000.

In 1965, the union changed its name to the Laborers’ International Union of North America, or LIUNA for short. The union’s successful fights for healthcare and expanding pension coverage became vital organizing tools.

In the ensuing decades, the union expanded it’s focus on member benefits, political organizing and training. Many locals began to offer additional services, from health clinics to drug and alcohol rehabilitation resources. Its political organizing strength became sought after by candidates for state, local and federal office. Its training programs grew to invest tens of millions of dollars each year to help new members develop careers and enable existing members to find additional opportunities. In this era, the union adopted its stylized LIUNA Feel the Power mark and recognizable orange brand.

Current Campaigns/Community Efforts: The union strives to harness the power of its half-million members by encouraging the aggressive use of mobilization, organizing and communications tools at each of its 400 local unions. The LIUNA Action Network mobilizes members to take a stand on important issues. See how every new member is equipped to be an integral and active part of the union with a Member Orientation Guide. Through the LIUNA Training and Education Fund, members have access to free world-class skills training, enabling them to expand their work opportunities. Through various organizing efforts, the union fights to help non-union workers improve their lives by uniting with the union and by defending the rights of all workers, whether immigrant or native born. LIUNA also supports constituency groups for women, African Americans and Latinos. To see the amazing work LIUNA members do, visit Great Projects. Check out LECET‘s labor-contractor initiative, which helps connect skilled workers with the contractors who need them. To learn how the union strives to make job sites safer and workers healthier, visit the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund and its publication Lifelines

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Kenneth Quinnell
Mon, 10/07/2019 – 10:08

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Updated: October 23, 2019 — 9:42 pm