One of the construction trades, traditionally considered unskilled manual labor (as opposed to skilled labor). In the division of labor, laborers have all blasting, hand tools, power tools, air tools, and small heavy equipment, and act as assistants to other trades , e.g. operators or cement masons. The first century BC engineer Vitruvius writes in detail about laborer practices at that time. In his experience a good crew of laborers is just as valuable as any other aspect of construction. Other than the addition of pneumatics, laborer practices have changed little. With the advent of advanced technology and its introduction into the construction field, the laborers have been quick to include much of this technology as being laborers work.

Tools and equipment

Laborers are typically required to provide their own basic hand tools. The following tools are considered a minimum: hammer, pliers (side-cutters), utility knife, tape measure, vise-grips, cresent wrench, screwdriver, margin trowel, carpenter's pencil or soapstone, tool belt and pouches. In addition: a five gallon bucket with additional tools, toolbelt suspenders, water jug and lunchbox is recommended. Most safety equipment that is consumed or work specific e.g. hard hat, safety glasses, hearing protection, gloves, fall protection, High-visibility clothing, concrete boots, respirator/dust mask and toe guards are provided by the employer as part of construction site safety. Personal safety equipment e.g. full leather boots, high strength pants, socks, chapstick, and climate specific outerwear, is provided by the individual.

Types of work

Some of the work done by laborers includes:'''

*concrete -- shotcrete, gunite, grouting and steel forms

*paving -- white paving formwork, traffic control, striping, signs

*piping -- waterpipe, sewer and storm drain

*dry utilities -- electrical conduit and communications conduit

*demolition -- concrete cutting, pavement breaking, cutting torch

*tunnels -- drilling and blasting

*hod carrier -- block masonry, plasterers and fireproofing

*environmental remediation and hazardous waste

*fences and landscaping

Much of the work traditionally claimed by laborers is merely work that did not fit into any other workforce's labor classification. These other classifications (in order of prestige) typically include the heavy equipment operators, ironworkers, carpenters, masons, teamsters/truck drivers and hod carriers. In addition, work that typically was shunned by journeymen of other trade unions tradesman/craftsman or was given to their apprentices is generally done by laborers in the absence of apprentices.

An example is the operators who in the division of labor have all the equipment. Most operators will not operate equipment they perceive as lowly such as bobcats, kick-brooms and telescopic handlers, laborers usually are used to operate these unless an operator apprentice is available and demands his right to operate. The same is true for most other trades except the ironworkers who are notorious for protecting their work and not wanting anyone else to touch their steel, tie-wire or Kliens. The advantage to this system is that many laborers gain sufficient experience working with another trade to journeyman-in while earning a higher wage than an apprentice. Many foremen will gradually give a laborer extra responsibility until they are performing at a journeyman level and can enter a more skilled union as a journeyman.


The pay for a union laborer is equal or greater than most work available to anyone with a bachelor’s degree, making this one of the few fields where someone without a high school degree can still earn a living wage. Union, heavy construction and highway construction laborers earn on average (US2008) $25.47 / hr compared to 13.72 / hr for non-union laborers . It is not uncommon for young civil engineers, construction managers and construction engineers to be earning less than their apprentice laborers. Union laborers earn more than unfree labour and can be an avenue for those who are uneducated and with no resources to become educated and with resources.

Hazards and conditions

There are dangers accociated with laboring. Many laborers are severely injured or killed by accident each year while performing work duties. Many who work as laborers for even a short period of time will suffer from permanent work injuries such as: hearing loss, arthritis, osteoarthritis, back injuries, eye injury, head injury, chemical burn (lime sensitivity), lung disease, missing finger nails and skin scars. Alcoholism and drug use (drug abuse) is common although most companies require drug screening for all new hires. If a laborer is injured on the job they are immediately given a drug test. If the test results are positive then they are ineligible for any Workers' compensation benefits. There is a gray area for the use of marijuana due to medical marijuana prescriptions. Some who have been dismissed for failing a drug test while possessing a prescription have been later reinstated with pay as having been wrongfully terminated. The Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) represents laborers on public and private projects. Some of the business representatives are laborers who have been so severely injured they can no longer labor. With a phone call and a good reason they will be on-site the next morning asking questions and demanding apologies for mistreatment of laborers.

This job, at times, and depending on who is in charge, qualifies for the 3D's, Dirty, Dangerous and Demeaning, or showing global connotation, as the Japanese say it 汚い, 危険, and きつい . Many other times laboring is a very gratifying job with lots of fresh air (jobsite air quality) and sunshine. The shear hardship, drudgery and physical demands of the job ensure that there is always a shortage of good laborers.


External links

Laborers Local 185

Ironworkers favorite tool

Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA)

Construction Research Benefiting Laborer Working Conditions:

Center for Integrated Facility Engineering
CMU Sensor Based Research
Technion Automated Project Performance Control

Construction Engineering & Management Education:

CSU Chico
CSU Sacramento
Stanford University

Wages, Earnings, and Benefits

Occupational Outlook Handbook:

all occupations

U.S. Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics

Laborer job description video

Jobsite Discrimination

Job Description

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