More about union contracts.  Seniority is an important concept.  There has to be a standard system to consistently treat employees.  I think seniority is the best system.  The longer a person has worked for a company, the more rights he has earned.  This means when a job opening becomes available anyone in the union can bid on it , but the job is awarded to the most senior employee who bid.  To prevent a person from hopping from job to job, a time limit can be placed on if you are awarded a new job how soon you can bid on another.  The standard was 6 months.  If you are awarded a job and discover you don’t like it, you can’t be considered for another opening until after 6 months.  That seems reasonable.  It takes time to learn a new skill, and while you are learning you are not very productive.

Seniority also determines which shift you work on.  Most people prefer first shift.  So the first shift positions go to the most senior employees.  When a person on first shift quits, is fired, or retires, then the most senior employee in the same department can transfer from second or third to take his place on first.  Then a new employee can be hired to take the place of the one who just transferred.  That way a new employee is not hired onto first shift while a senior employee wanting first shift is stuck on second or third.  The exception to this is for training.  A new employee can be hired onto first shift to be trained.  After the training is completed, he goes to whatever shift needed, while the senior employee wanting first shift takes his place.  Also, a senior employee may want to work on second or third shift for whatever reason.  Maybe his wife works on second shift, so he works second shift so they can spend their time off from work together.  Suppose his wife gets on first shift.  Now he wants first, also.  If he has more seniority than another employee in his department, he should be allowed to bump that employee and take his place on first.  To be fair to the employee being bumped, because he has built his life and schedule around being on first shift, the bumping can’t happen arbitrarily.  In our contract we had a Sadie Hawkins Day.  Once a year any employee with enough seniority could displace another employee in his department for the shift he desired, which was usually first.  That way the senior employee could exercise his seniority rights, while the less senior employee knew he was secure on his shift except for that one day.

Seniority also determined who was laid off when work slowed down.  Lay-offs went strictly by seniority by department.  Not much argument about that.  On the other end, the most-senior employees were called back first when they were needed as work picked back up.  Here is where there are difficulties.  We retain call-back rights for 1 year.  Anytime during that first year of being laid-off, the company must call back employees by seniority.  But after a year, a laid-off employee is considered dismissed.  That means if you are called back to work, it is as a new hire; you lose all of the seniority you had built up and start anew.  Say there was an employee the company didn’t like, for whatever reason, say he missed a lot, had a lousy attitude, did shoddy work, whatever.  They don’t want him back.  But there is a laid-off employee with less seniority they do want back.  They can’t bring him back without bringing back the guy they don’t want.  And the demand for his work is urgent, or they wouldn’t consider calling him back.  Also, if he is such a good worker it’s likely someone else will hire him in the year he must wait for the lousy worker to lose his seniority rights.  So he might not come back if he likes his new job better.  What to do?

The company has found a way around this by stressing ‘skill and ability’ in the contract.  Later contracts have stated that seniority rights prevail as long as all other considerations are equal.  And the ‘all other considerations’ are skill and ability.  If the company can show through work and attendance records that the less senior employee is a much better worker than the one with more seniority, then the company can call back the less senior employee first.  This is tricky.  As long as the company uses this option sparingly, and as long as the union agrees there is a glaring disparency between the two workers, its doable.  The worker the company doesn’t want still has call-back rights for a year.  The company can’t hire a new employee for his department without calling him back first.  It’s just by using ‘skill and ability’ the company can keep its best employees.  The best solution is not to lay anybody off and fire the bad workers.  But firing someone is not so easily done nowadays.

I’ll continue discussing the contract in the next post.


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