The term "laborer" has a new meaning in the 1990s, according to Arthur A. Coia, general president of the 600,000-member Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA). "In the old days, if you had no specific trade or skill, but could offer only yourself to an employer, you were a laborer." However, things are different now, because of the union's extensive training programs, causing an "evolution of laborers from unskilled workers to skilled men and women, performing a wide variety of tasks."
Construction, the traditional berth of laborers, has become far more technical than it used to be, "but laborers are still at the heart of the process. . . . In fact, they now run some of the very machines that replaced their hodcarrying predecessors."
This evolution did not happen automatically, but "came about through cooperation between labor and management and a commitment to providing workers with the skills needed to meet the demands of changing industries."
The training efforts of LIUNA began in 1967 with various Federal grants. Two years later, the union joined with the Associated General Contractors, a trade association, to establish the Labor ers-Associated General Contractors Education and Training Fund. This group is independently funded, has its...