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1921 - 1940

New Direction

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The advent of the Great Depression in 1929 not only put tens of millions of Americans out of work, including tens of thousands of laborers it also drove wages downward. With so many people jobless and struggling to support their families, unions lost much of their leverage to negotiate wage increases.

Unemployment reached epidemic proportions and the union’s membership dropped to 17,365, which was a twenty year low. However, the union surged forward, scoring victories such as the merging with the Tunnel and Subway Contractor’s International Union, which furthered and added to its jurisdiction.

In 1933, the National Industrial Recovery Act was signed setting minimum standards for working conditions and establishing a national Labor Board to enforce collective bargaining rights. The passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 was a landmark victory for all of organized labor and ensured that private sector workers had the right to union representation.

The 1935 passage of the Davis Bacon Act would have long-lasting positive consequences for all construction workers. The Davis-Bacon Act, which requires contractors on federal construction projects to pay workers the prevailing wages and benefits in their community, is especially valuable to laborers  who were vulnerable to being replaced with lower-paid, non-union workers by contractors trying to win federal contracts by lowering their costs. Prevailing wages continue to be critical to members’ wages.

The law benefited laborers and all construction workers throughout the decade as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal took shape and government funded infrastructure construction projects like the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority - where LIUNA members continue to work to this day - helped the nation work itself out of the Depression.

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LIUNA History

Building New Brunswick

From the files


Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-class History, Volume 1. Edited by Eric Arnesen. 2007.

The Laborer: 100th Anniversary Edition. 2003

LIUNA History 1903 – 2003. Mike Matejka, Great Plains Laborers’ District Council. 2013.

LIUNA New England Region. Download April 2014.

Minnesota LECET Newsletter. December 2013. Edited by Dwight Engen.