Laborer at work
Activity sectors Construction
Competencies Patience with supervisory staff selected by nepotism not skill

A Laborer or labourer - see variation in english spelling - is one of the construction trades, traditionally considered unskilled manual labor, as opposed to skilled labor.[clarification needed] 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,[1] e.g., operators or cement masons. The 1st 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

Underground laborers - note the unsafe condition caused by a visiting politico not wearing a hardhat - and should be listening not talking.

Laborers are typically required to provide their own basic hand tools. The following tools are considered a minimum: hammer, pliers w/ side-cutters, utility knife, tape measure, locking pliers, crescent wrench, screwdriver, margin trowel, carpenter's pencil or soapstone, tool belt and one pouch. In addition: a five gallon bucket with additional tools, toolbelt suspenders, water jug and lunchbox are recommended. Most safety equipment that is consumed or work specific, for example hard hat, safety glasses, hearing protection, gloves, fall protection, High-visibility clothing, concrete boots, respirator/dust mask and toe guards[1] are provided by the employer as part of construction site safety. Personal safety equipment, for example full leather boots (some long time laborers believe steel toes are dangerous on construction site; it is better to have crushed toes than toes cut off by the crushed steel), high strength pants Carhartt or Jeans, socks, Lip balm, and climate specific outerwear (unless laborers are instructed to work in a climate different from what they typically reside in, for example high elevation), are provided by the individual.

Types of work

Some of the work done by laborers includes:[2]

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 skid steer, 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 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 (2008 US) $25.47/h compared to 13.72/h for non-union laborers[3] In addition to paid earnings, union laborers enjoy the benefits of medical insurance, vacation pay, pension plans, representation and vocational schools. It is not uncommon for young civil engineers, construction managers and construction engineers to earn less than their apprentice laborers. However, unlike engineers, laborers are not usually employed full time year round. The additional pay they receive is often balanced out by the lesser unemployment checks they receive while out of work. These unemployment checks supplement the winter pay laborers often earn as independent contractors and under-the-table work. On average young engineers earn (2007 US$) 40,000 to 60,000 while union laborers on average earn 50,000 to 80,000. Engineers are not immune to being out of work, in heavy civil work some are employed on a project basis. They are not guaranteed a place on any subsequent projects, though this is in practice often the case. The value of work put in place by laborers and the value of avoided rework and increased efficiencies produced by the engineers' planning is a balance of resource utilization on any large project. Union laborers earn more than unfree labor 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, drug use, and drug abuse are 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 kitanai, kiken, and kitsui. [4] Many other times laboring is a very gratifying job with lots of fresh air (jobsite air quality) and sunshine. The sheer hardship, drudgery and physical demands of the job ensure that there is always a shortage of good laborers. But, as happens - mistakes can be made and Laborers have been asked to go forward with ill made plans; "'Forward, the Laborer crew!' Was there a man dismay'd? Not tho' the crew knew someone had blunder'd: Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die: Into the worksite of Death".

See also

  • navvy, particularly applied to describe the manual laborers working on major civil engineering projects

External links

Construction Engineering & Management Education
Occupational Outlook Handbook


  1. ^ Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Construction Laborers, on the Internet at U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (visited May 31, 2008).
  2. ^ Laborers' Local 185, Scope of Work, on the Internet at Laborers Local 185, Welcome Home (visited May 31, 2008).
  3. ^ Laborers' International Union of North America, Better Jobs, on the Internet at Laborers' International Union of North America (visited May 31, 2008).
  4. ^ "Dirty, Dangerous and Demeaning." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 14 May 2008, 17:01 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 1 June 2008. Dirty, Dangerous and Demeaning.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • laborer — [lā′bər ər] n. [ME < OFr laboreor < laborer: see LABOR] 1. a person who labors; esp., a wage earning worker whose work is largely hard physical labor 2. an unskilled or semiskilled worker who brings materials to, and does preparatory work… …   English World dictionary

  • laborer — index artisan, employee Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 laborer …   Law dictionary

  • Laborer — La bor*er, n. [Written also labourer.] One who labors in a toilsome occupation; a person who does work that requires strength rather than skill, as distinguished from that of an {artisan}. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • laborer — UK US /ˈleɪbərər/ noun [C] US ► LABOURER(Cf. ↑labourer) …   Financial and business terms

  • laborer — (n.) mid 14c., manual worker, especially an unskilled one, agent noun from LABOR (Cf. labor) (v.). Meaning member of the working class, member of the lowest social rank is from c.1400 …   Etymology dictionary

  • laborer — workingman, workman, *worker, craftsman, handicraftsman, mechanic, artisan, operative, hand, roustabout …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • laborer — [n] worker blue collar worker, drudge, farmhand, grunt, hand, hireling, manual worker, migrant worker, peon, unskilled worker, working man/woman, working stiff*; concept 348 …   New thesaurus

  • laborer — Synonyms and related words: blue collar worker, bourgeoisie, breadwinner, casual, casual laborer, common laborer, common people, common run, common sort, commonage, commonality, commonalty, commoners, commons, day laborer, drudge, employee,… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • laborer — I (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) n. worker, work[ing]man or woman, wage earner. See exertion. II (Roget s IV) n. Syn. worker, day laborer, unskilled worker, toiler, blue collar worker, manual laborer; carpenter s helper, bricklayer s… …   English dictionary for students

  • laborer — n worker, hand, workman, toiler, moiler, drudge, unskilled laborer, manual laborer, blue collar worker, Inf. hardhat, (in the Southern U.S.) Disparaging. redneck; employee, help, hired hand, hireling, servant; working man or woman, wage earner,… …   A Note on the Style of the synonym finder

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