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1941 - 1960

War to Prosperity

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One of the most critical ways the union helped members improve their lives was through not only in wages, but also through health insurance, pensions, disability coverage, and other benefits offering greater physical and financial security.

However, there was a complicating factor. Since most members worked for many different contractors over the course of their working lives, it made no sense to persuade single employers to establish pension plans for their employees as the industrial unions were doing.

LIUNA innovated by establishing multi-employer plans, financed by negotiated contributions from each signatory contractor. This option was advanced by the 1947 passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which is in every other respect was one of the most anti-union bills ever enacted in the United States. One of the Act’s provisions prohibited employers from contributing to union health and welfare funds that were not under joint labor-management administration.

By participating in multi-employer plans, LIUNA members benefited by having portable benefits from project to project and union employer to union employer. Union employers also benefited by being able to offer competitive benefits without operating their own plans.

LIUNA was just one of the many unions that stepped up to the plate when the World War II began in Europe, suspending all dues until the war was over. A resolution was also adopted in 1940 which pledged full support for the National Defense Program.

In 1941, the Union held its first Convention since 1911, and in thirty years the Union had reported its membership had risen from 8,955 to 281,325.

The war dramatically increased the rate of construction in America, and by 1942, membership in the Union had nearly doubled what it had been at the 1941 Convention. By the end of 1942, membership had risen to 430,000 members.

Passage of the Federal Highway Act in 1944 literally paved the way for the creation of the interstate highway system and set the stage for an explosion of economic growth for the United States and tens of thousands of jobs for LIUNA members. To this day, the Highway Bill remains a mainstay for LIUNA members.

From 1940 until 1950, Marion, Illinois Local 773 members worked on the Cache River Diversion Channel Project, which was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1938, and included construction of a 5,260-foot diversion channel from the point where the
former channel of the Cache River intersected the Mounds and Mound City Levee to the Mississippi River.  

Rockford Laborers' Local 32 members helped build the Fordham Dam, a job that took three years to complete, 1946-49, on the Rock River in Northern Illinois.

In 1949, LIUNA signed the first National Pipeline Agreement which protected wages, benefits and safety conditions for thousands of pipeline workers.

In 1953, the Union celebrated its 50th Anniversary with over 2,800 people attending the Golden Jubilee Celebration in Washington, D.C.

In 1958, the 60,000 member “National Association of Post Office Mail Handlers, Watchmen, Messengers and Group Leaders” affiliated with LIUNA as well as “Journeyman Stone Cutters Association of North America” bringing 3,000 skilled workers to LIUNA.

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Powerful Projects

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.