Born of strife and struggle, LiUNA members have been uniting for better lives since 1836 when the first recognized Laborers union was established in Philadelphia. Hundreds of Laborers Local Unions existed across North America at the turn of the century but they were only admitted to the early AFL as “Federal Locals.”
But in 1903, Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), sent out a convention call to independent local Laborers’ Unions, urging them to join together and establish an international union of construction laborers. On April 13, the International Hod Carriers and Building Laborers’ Union (IHC and BLC) was founded. The first convention, held in Washington, D.C., was attended by 25 delegates from 23 Local Unions in 17 cities, representing 8,186 Laborers. A Declaration of Principles was adopted during the first convention. The delegates elected Herman Lilien, a Belgian immigrant from Chicago Local Union 4, as General President. He served as General President until 1905. The first Constitution was published in three languages: English, German and Italian. The Charter application claimed jurisdiction over the following:
Domenic D’Alessandro, from Boston Local Union 209, was elected General President in 1908 after serving as a general organizer and International Vice President. D’Alessandro left a lasting imprint on the young union serving as General President for 18 years until his death in 1926.
During his time as General President, D’Alessandro guided the union through tremendous growth as well as jurisdictional victories from rival construction trades unions.
The union’s official Journal detailed early wage rates.
In 1912, the young union went through two name changes becoming the International Hod Carriers and Common Laborers of America and then the International Hod Carriers’ Building and Common Laborers of America. A hod is a tray or trough that has a pole handle and that is used to shoulder loads of materials such as mortar or brick on a construction site.
In 1920, the union had 548 Local Unions with a membership of 96,143. Through his leadership the union supported the rights of African-American trade unionists to be accepted as equals.