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Full text of "Seniority and job security"

'LI B R.AR.Y 

OF THL 
U N I VERSITY 
or ILLINOIS 

331. 1 

v\o. \- 2.5 



^. 



INSTITUTE OF LABOR AND 
INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS 




BULLETIN 



Seniority 

and Job Security 



UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS BULLETIN 



I.L.I.R. PUBLICATIONS SERIES A, VOL. 1, NO. 2, MAY 1947 




THE INSTITUTE OF LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS 
has as a major responsibility "to inquire faithfully, honestly, and im- 
partially into labor-management problems of all types, and secure facts 
which will lay the foundations for future progress in the whole field 
of labor relations." Report of Board of Trustees, March 9, 1946, 
page 1031. 



Director: 
Phillips Bradley 



Editorial Writer: 
Sybil S. Schaffrath 



Research by: Marilyn Miller 



UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS BULLETIN 

Volume 44; Number 58; May 27, 1947. Published every five days by the University of 
Illinois. Entered as second-class matter at the post office at Urbana, Illinois, under the Act 
of August 24, 1912. Office of Publication, 358 Administration Building, Urbana, Illinois. 
Acceptance for mailing at the special rate of postage provided for in Section 1103, Act of October 
3, 1917, authorized July 31, 1918. 



'i LSI 

SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY 

It has only recently been widely realized that security of job tenure 

is at least as important to the worker as wages, hours, or other 

conditions of employment. The depression of the early thirties and 

the severe unemployment that accompanied it have led most people 

to value job security more highly, in comparison with individual 

opportunity, than they had in the past. 

Seniority, as defined by the United States Department of 

Labor, is: 

. . . the principle granting preference to employees in certain phases of em- 
ployment in accordance with length of service. The principal aim of a sen- 
iority program is to afford the maximum security and reward to those who 
have rendered longest service.* 

With a strict seniority system, decisions on lay-offs, re-hiring, 
and (sometimes) promotion are not left solely to the discretion of 
foremen or other representatives of management. Instead, a straight 
and clear-cut formula serves as a guide. 

The first seniority provisions appeared on the railroads about 
fifty years ago. Numerous sales and consolidation of lines gave fre- 
quent opportunity for discrimination in the discharge or reassign- 
ment of employees. Among the first demands of the railroad unions 
were those for the application of strict seniority rights in case of 
lay-off, re-hire, prornotion, transfer, and assignment to various runs. 

The seasonal nature of many industries — and the resulting 
frequency of lay-off and re-hiring — caused a special desire of the 
regular employees for job protection. With the rise of mass-produc- 
tion industries and the development of industrial unionism, the 
desire for seniority protection became even greater. There was the 
case of older workers, who, in semi-skilled jobs in mass-production 
industries w^ere especially likely to be displaced by younger, more 
vigorous and rapid workers. In addition, it was difficult for man- 
agement in huge factories, employing thousands of w^orkers in 
skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled classifications, to determine w^ho 
merited promotions. The desire, too, of the new industrial unions to 
demonstrate their strength in job protection undoubtedly was a 
large factor in their insistence on seniority systems. 

* Bureau of Labor Statistics Bulletin No. 686: Union Agreement Provisions, 
p. 117. 



I, OF kUL ua 



4 SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY 

Today seniorii)- has been extensively adopted as an operating 
guide by labor and management. The principle of seniority helps, 
no doubt, to clear up many problems resulting from discrimination 
and favoritism (or the suspicion that they are present, which has an 
ecjually bad effect on morale, and consecjuently on the efficiency of 
the workers). It is, however, a rather complicated standard, with 
many administrative problems that must be carefully considered if 
it is to function smoothly. 

There is no one standard which can be used to cover all seniority 
provisions. The variations in types of provisions are tremendous, 
and each industry, each company, each plant or shop, has to work 
out its own system — one that is adapted to the particular situation. 
Seniority plans differ in many respects, such as the scope of the 
seniority list, the calculation of length of service, the kinds of deci- 
sions that are determined by seniority, the extent to which facts 
other than length of service may be considered, and the conditions 
under which seniority is earned and lost. Generally speaking, most 
seniority provisions follow a pattern within a particular industry, 
with variations depending on the plant. Some of the different types 
of seniority will be considered below. Quotations from labor agree- 
ments are given to illustrate many of these types. 

Differences in the Scope of the Seniority List 

Plant-wide Seniority. Plant seniority is probably the simplest 
form of seniority to establish, and under some conditions is the 
most difficult to operate. There is but one seniority list for the 
entire plant. The position of each employee on the list depends on 
his length of service, regardless of the jobs he has held in the plant. 
The following is an example of such a provision in a typical agree- 
ment in the chemical industry: 

The Company and the Union recognize and accept the principle of seniority 
and agree to apply it according to the following provisions: 

a. Plant seniority of an employee is measured by the years, months and 
days from the start of his continuous service. 

This type of seniority provision works most satisfactorily when 
there is not too sharp a difference in the kind of skill required for 
the various jobs. If the work were diversified, too much time might 
be spent in testing ability and re-training employees for new, un- 



SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY J 

familiar jobs whenever there is an expansion or contraction of the 
work force. Plant-wide seniority usually permits one employee to 
''bump" another with less seniority, if he has the ability to perform 
the job. "Bumping" means that an employee displaced from one job 
can retain his employment by replacing a worker with less seniority 
on any job that he can perform. This process of displacement may 
be carried all the way down the line through the whole plant. Several 
employees may change jobs as a result of one lay-off. This can be 
a very disruptive practice within a plant if the employees are not 
easily interchangeable because of job similarity. This type of 
seniority provision gives the high-service employee maximum job 
security by giving him the greatest opportunity of replacing an- 
other employee. For the same reason, it places those recently hired 
in the most vulnerable position. 

Departmental Seniority. Under departmental seniority there 
is a separate seniority list for each department. An employee on a 
discontinued job can replace someone in his own department, but 
not in other departments. For this type of seniority, length of 
service may be calculated by any one of several methods. Seniority 
may be computed for each department in which the employee had 
worked. He retains his seniority in each department. If he is forced 
out of the department in which he is working, he can exercise his 
seniority in any of the departments in which he has previously 
worked, displacing any employee with less seniority there. 

Another type of provision permits seniority only for the de- 
partment in which the employee is currently working and computes 
it from the time he started to work in the department. Such a pro- 
vision does not recognize the employee's right to seniority in de- 
partments in which he has previously worked. 

In another type of provision seniority is good only for the 
department in which the employee has worked longest. The pro- 
vision given below is from a typical agreement in the machine-tool 
industry: 

Departmental seniority will be established . . . and all employees who have 
worked the majority of their time in any given department will be con- 
sidered employees of only that department. 

Combinations of Plant and Departmental Seniority. Since 
neither plant nor departmental seniority has proved full\' satis- 



6 SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY 

factory, there has been an attempt to combine the two. The com- 
binations have generally produced better results. The following 
provision in a labor agreement illustrates a simple type of 
combination : 

When conditions warrant an increase or decrease in the number of em- 
ployees in the plant, the principle of plant-wide seniority shall apply. When 
conditions warrant an increase or decrease in the number of employees in 
a particular group or department, then the principle of department seniority 
shall apply. 

Some contracts provide for lay-offs to be based on plant seniority, 
and for promotions to be based on departmental seniority. 

A provision that is often favored by both unions and manage- 
ment is one by which seniority is calculated on the basis of the 
employee's total service with the company, but can be exercised 
only within his present department. 

In case of a lay-off, the employee cannot displace any other em- 
ployee with shorter service in any other department, iTor can he 
apply for a promotion in any other department. In the event of a 
re-hire after a lay-off, he can be re-hired only in the department 
in which he was last working. He is laid off, however, after any 
employees who have worked in the department a longer time than 
he, but whose total plant service is less than his. 

Management prefers a combination system such as this, be- 
cause it makes employees more willing to transfer than they would 
be if they did not carry their accumulated seniority with them. 
Likewise, it is more feasible than a straight plant-wide seniority sys- 
tem where "bumping" would prevail aiid where extensive re-train- 
ing of displaced employees would be necessary. Although it is true 
that no seniority gives an employee a claim to a job unless he has 
the ability to perform it, still some time may be lost in testing the 
presence of that ability; and even if the ability is unquestioned, it 
takes some time for an employee shifting to another job to attain 
normal efficiency. Many unions prefer this plan also because the 
employees can better afford to accept promotions, and because fewer 
employees are adversely affected by the elimination of one job. 

Another combination is found in some labor agreements ; one 
that provides for departmental seniority in skilled and semi-skilled 
jobs, and plant-wide seniority for unskilled jobs. This means that a 
skilled or semi-skilled worker may, in the event of a lav-off', dis- 



SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY / 

place an employee with less seniority in his own department. In the 
event, however, that there is no such opportunity, he may join the 
unskilled labor pool of the plant and receive whatever work there 
is available according to this total length of service in the plant. An 
instance of this type of provision occurs in the following agree- 
ment in the automotive industry: 

Employees having one year's seniority or more who have exhausted their 
seniority . . . (in their department and division) . . . shall be placed in 
the plant in line with seniority by the Employment Department on any job 
they have worked or on any job for which they are qualified. 

Craft or Occupational Seniority. Under this type of seniority 
there is a separate list for each craft or occupation regardless of the 
department in which it is located. It is well suited to plants where 
the same skill is used in more than one department. It has in general 
the advantages of departmental seniority and avoids the disad- 
vantages of plant-wide seniority. The same variations are possible 
here as under departmental seniority. 

Application of Seniority 

The question of the application of seniority is very important and 
is often not adequately specified in collective agreements. Does 
seniority apply only in lay-off and re-hire? Is it to be considered 
also in promotions and transfers ? 

Where seniority provisions exist they always apply to lay-off 
and re-hiring. Sometimes they apply also to promotion and transfer. 
^Management generally is more opposed to seniority for promo- 
tions than to seniority for lay-ofif and re-hiring. Seniority may pre- 
vent the promotion of the best qualified employee, and may thus 
reduce the incentive for good work. Moreover, the best employees 
mav quit and seek employment where their ability will receive 
quicker recognition. Management therefore usually seeks to limit 
seniority to the problem of job security. The union, on the other 
hand, may fear that the management might discriminate against 
union members in making promotions. 

Deviations from Straight Seniority 

Straight seniority exists where length of service is the only fact 
that determines the decision. Other facts are often considered. 



8 SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY 

Sometimes they are carefully listed. In other cases there is a general 

provision to permit exceptions to straight seniority. An example of 

this provision occurs in the following typical agreement in the food 

processing industry: 

When it becomes necessary to disregard strict seniority, each case will be 
considered by the Joint Relations Committee, and full consideration will be 
given to their recommendations. 

Ability. In most cases seniority applies only if the employee 
has the ability to do the job. In some cases skill and ability are the 
first considerations, and seniority governs only between employees 
whose skill and ability are approximately equal. Skill is often given 
more consideration in promotion than in lay-off. Seniority is 
qualified most often by skill and ability in cases of transfers and 
promotions and by "ability to do the job" in cases of lay-off and 
re-hire. 

One type of contract states that promotions will be based on 

length of service, skill, and ability, and may include any of the 

following qualifications: knowledge, experience, physical fitness, 

character, attendance and safety record, family status, and place of 

residence. When other qualifications are equal, length of service 

will govern. An example of this type of provision is found in a 

chemical industry agreement, as follows: 

In promotions, transfers, or the filling of new jobs or vacancies, ability, 
skill and seniority shall be the determining factors, but where ability and 
skill are approximately equal, seniority shall govern. 

The second type of contract states that a vacant or new job will 

be posted, and senior employees will have first chance to try for the 

job. If the senior employee can do the job to the satisfaction of 

management, he is to have the job. If he cannot do the job, he will 

be returned to his old one, with no loss of seniority. The following 

example is taken from a typical agreement in the public utilities 

industry: 

The parties hereto agree ... to the system of posting and bidding" for the 
filling of vacancies .... 

A. Where there is an opportunity for advancement, the employee 
having the longest continuous service record with the Company shall be 
the first considered for employment. 

Promotion shall depend on the employee's length of service and 
qualifications as to skill, knowledge, experience, character, physical 
fitness, attendance, safety record and performance on other jobs. 



SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY V 

The award of jobs under the posting and bidding system will be dis- 
cussed by the Company and the Union before any award is made 
permanent. For this purpose the Union will appoint a subcommittee of 
the General Labor Relations Committee. 

B. If, after a promotion, an employee is found to be unsuited for 
the duties of the new position, he shall return to his former job with- 
out loss of seniority. 

The determination of ability has always been a controversial 
question. The right of management to determine ability has been 
challenged bv unions which state that this right would lead to the 
same arbitrary decisions that seniority provisions are designed to 
eliminate. As a general rule the unions can challenge a manage- 
ment decision on ability through the use of the grievance procedure. 

In order that there may be some objective measurement of 
ability, many plants have evolved tests to rate ability. Unions have 
usuallv not been receptive to such tests, except in cases in which 
thev participate in their formulation and administration. In this 
connection, it should be remembered that when the union insists 
on an inflexible seniority system, it is an indication of a feeling of 
insecuritv and a fear that management is not prepared to deal fairly 
with the union. When a union is convinced that management will 
bargain in good faith and respect the union, more flexible interpre- 
tations of seniority provisions and other provisions within the con- 
tract generally result. 

"Exceptional" Employees. Many contracts contain clauses 

giving management the right, in the event of a lay-off, to exempt 

from seniority provisions certain "exceptional" employees. These 

exceptional employees are generally recognized as being men who 

are necessary to maintain efficiency in the plant when production 

is low. or whose skills are especially needed during a retooling 

period. An example from an agreement in the food processing 

industrv is an illustration of such clauses: 

Lay-off and re-hiring shall be by plant seniority, and where a part only of 
the employees are to be laid off or re-hired, employees shall be retained or 
re-hired ... in order of their seniority, except so far as insuring efficient 
and continuous operation of the plant may. in the Company's judgment re- 
quire retaining or re-hiring, out of their seniority order, employees having 
special skill, experience, and/or ability. 



10 SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY 

Some limit, such as 10 per cent of the working force, is often 
placed on the number of employees that mav be designated by 
management as "exceptional." 

Acquiring Seniority 

New employees are generally hired on probation. For a certain 
length of time (usually between 30 and 90 days) they may be dis- 
charged for any reason that management deems sufficient. During 
this time these employees hold no seniority rights whatsoever and 
generally are laid off before any work-sharing plan goes into effect. 
After their probational period is over, they receive full seniority 
rights, and their seniority dates from the time of their hiring. 

The following is an example from a typical agreement in the 
petroleum industry: 

All employees for their first thirty (30) day period of their employment are 
on probation and their services may be terminated durino- that time at the 
employer's discretion, provided, however, this section shall not abrogate such 
employee's rights of promotion and demotion. 

Special Questions 

Loss of Seniority. The most frequent reasons for loss of sen- 
iority are: (1) discharge for cause, (2) voluntary quitting, (3) pro- 
longed lay-off, and (4) failure to report promptly when called back 
to work. Occasionally additional causes for loss of seniority are 
included in contracts. In a few cases the seniority grade of an 
employee may be lowered as a penalty for breach of discipline. 

Leaves of Absence. Leaves of absence are usually granted 
for specified periods of time in case of military service, maternity, 
union business, or for any other reason regarded as valid. During 
such leaves of absence seniority is retained, and usually continues 
to accumulate. Seniority is lost if the employee does not return to 
work when his leave expires or obtain an extension of leave. The 
illustration given below is taken from a typical agreement found in 
the textile industry: 

All Leaves of Absence for 2 weeks or more shall be applied for in writing. 
... If an extension of leave is desired, application for the extension shall 
be made in advance of expiration date. Extensions of Leaves of Absence 
shall be for periods of not more than thirty days. All employees on Leave 



SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY 11 

of Absence shall report for work on the date of expiration or sooner if 
the reason for Leave no longer exists. ... In maternity cases the Leave 
of Absence shall be for not more than nine months, snbject to extension 
for good cause shown. . . . 

Long-service Employees. ATany contracts contain provisions 
granting special protection to long-service employees. The general 
provision in such contracts is that the company will make a special 
efifort, in the event of a lay-off, to find work for employees who have 
been with the company for a certain lerigth of time. See the follow- 
ing provision from an agreement in the automotive industry: 

Employees having ten years' seniority or more shall have plant-wide sen- 
iority. They shall be placed in line with seniority by the Employment De- 
partment on any job for which they are qualified. 

Sometimes long-service employees will retain their seniority during 
a longer period of lay-off than in the case of other employees. The 
following provision is also taken from an agreement in the auto- 
motive industry: 

Employees who have been laid off for more than twelve (12) months will 
lose their seniority excepting those who had five (5) or more years' sen- 
iority on August 22, 1945. The latter will lose their seniority when they have 
been laid off for a period of twenty- four (24) months. 

Foremen. Provisions in collective bargaining agreements re- 
lating to the seniority status of foremen usually state that a fore- 
man who has been promoted from the position of worker retains 
his seniority for use in case of demotion. He may or may not 
accumulate seniority for the time he has spent as a supervisor. 
Absence of such protection makes promotion unattractive to the 
workers. An illustration of this provision is found in an agreement 
in the liquor distillers' industry: 

If an employee is promoted to a supervisory position outside the bargaining 
unit but within the plant, he shall be excluded from the coverage of this 
agreement but shall continue to accumulate departmental, divisional and 
plant seniority for a period of one year. In the event he is, within such one 
year period, returned to his non-supervisory position, he will be credited 
with all such seniority. After such one year period he shall accumulate only 
divisional or plant seniority while working" as a supervisor or outside the 
bargaining unity. 

Unions often try to include a provision that a foreman who has 
not been promoted from the ranks shall have no seniority. Manage- 
ment, on the other hand, argues that it needs to provide work for 



12 SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY 

Its foremen in slack times so that there will be competent super- 
visors on hand when more men are needed. 

Union Representatives. In general those w^orkers who are 
elected to full-time union office keep, and sometimes accumulate, 
seniority during the time they are serving in that office. Agree- 
ments generally provide that shop stewards or committeemen shall 
have top seniority. This applies only in the case of lay-offs. The rea- 
son for such a provision is that there should be an experienced repre- 
sentative of the workers in each operating department no matter 
how much the force may be reduced. Some unions do not request 
this clause because it might be resented by the other employees. 
Other unions feel it is necessary as a sort of compensation for the 
often thankless job of shop steward. This special seniority some- 
times applies also to certain union officers. An instance of this 
provision is seen in a typical agreement in the automotive industry : 

Xotwithstanding their position on the seniority list, the Plant Shop Com- 
mittee and the President, \^ice-President, Financial Secretary, Recording 
Secretary, and Treasurer of the Local Union shall in the event of a lay-off 
and re-hire be continued at work at all times when one or more departments 
or fractions thereof are at work, provided that they are able and do the 
work being done at the time. 

Share-the-work Plans. Most contracts contain provisions for 

work-sharing even when a seniority system is in effect. Typically, 

such clauses provide that probationary and temporary employees 

shall be dropped before hours are reduced below forty. Any further 

curtailment shall be accomplished by reduction of hours until a 

certain level is reached. This level varies from 24 to 40 hours. When 

this level has been attained there shall be lay-ofTs so that the level of 

hours may be maintained for the remaining workers. A typical 

agreement in the machine manufacturing industry contains such a 

provision: 

Should it become necessary to reduce expense because of a depression in 
business or other causes, the general principle of sharing the work shall 
be adhered to till the hours fall to forty. 

Too much work-sharing has resulted at times in "sharing the 
misery," and in keeping men tied to part-time jobs when they 
might be working elsewhere, or receiving unemployment compen- 
sation. This is entirely contrary to the principle of work-sharing, 
which is designed to maintain as many people as possible in slack 
times. 



SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY 13 

It is also apparent that older workers prefer adhering to a 
seniority plan rather than a work-sharing plan during slack times, 
while younger workers, with little accumulated seniority, prefer 
work-sharing. It is not unusual to find different locals within the 
same international union having entirely different provisions for 
distributing the work during slack times, depending on the compo- 
sition of the membership. 

In several industries, notably the building trades and the garment 
industries, there are no seniority plans in operation. In the con- 
struction industry most jobs are too temporary to use a seniority 
system. Some system of job rotation is therefore applied as an 
alternative by most unions in this industry. In the clothing and 
garment industries there are at least two sharp seasonal slumps each 
year. Under a seniority system there would be continual "bumping" 
and shifting of jobs. In these industries, when there is a curtailment 
of production, all work is shared (through reduction of hours) by 
all regular employees, regardless of seniority. This is done so that 
what income there is can be distributed among all the workers. A 
seniority system would leave all but a few out of work entirely for 
weeks or even months each year. In other industries, such a drastic 
work-sharing program might not be expedient, because it woidd 
prevent workers from securing other employment. In the clothing 
and garment industries, where work in all shops is curtailed at 
al)out the same time, there is little chance to find other work. 

Consequences of Seniority Provisions 

Productive Efficiency. Management's main objection to sen- 
iority systems has been that these systems tend to destroy the work- 
er's incentive to efficient production. One of the greatest incentives 
to efficient production before seniority plans were introduced was 
that the least efficient workers were the first ones to be laid off, while 
the most efficient workers were retained for as long a time as 
possible. It is doubtful, however, that the fear of lay-off provides a 
good incentive to productive efficiency. Worry over the possible 
loss of a job may often reduce efficiency. Beaumont, in The Psy- 
chology of Personnel, has pointed out that: 

It has sometimes been assumed that threatened loss of security -would serve 
as a strong motivating force, and occasionally employers have thought it 
advisable to hold over the workers the threat of being fired if their work was 



14 SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY 

not satisfactory. Experience has shown, however, that few people operate 
efficiently under such conditions. The positive prospect of the reward of 
security is more powerful than the negative prospect of insecurity as pun- 
ishment; and workers who can look forward toward regular employment 
at a satisfactory wage level tend to perform better than those who merely 
know that they will be discharged if their work does not suit. 

The prospect of promotion is likely to be a much better incen- 
tive than the threat of lay-off. The application of straight seniority 
to promotion is, therefore, more likely to have a bad effect on labor 
efficiency than its application to lay-off. 

Sumner Slichter has pointed out ( Union Policies and Industrial 
Management) that there are some ways in which seniority may 
improve the productivity of the working force as a whole. Seniority 
tends to preserve the efficiency of some of the poor workers by pre- 
venting the concentration of unemployment among them. Without 
seniority, they would be out of work much of the time ; unemploy- 
ment and turnover would tend to discourage and demoralize them, 
thus further reducing their efficiency. The same holds true for older 
men. While seniority often keeps them working at jobs that could 
be done more efficiently by younger men, it is undoubtedly more 
productive, from the standpoint of the community as a whole, for 
them to work at the jobs they know best than for them to work 
at other jobs or to be unemployed. 

Lack of Mobility. Seniority has certain disadvantages to the 
employees. A worker usually will prefer staying at a job where he 
has accumulated seniority and is relatively secure to transferring to 
a new job. By transferring he would be low on the seniority list, 
and the chance of his being laid off would be that much greater. 
This possibility may result in a worker's continuing at a job to 
which he is unsuited, and may also lead to a reluctance on the part 
of a worker to transfer to a new company or even a new industry. 
In such a situation, it is possible also for a company to hold its 
workers on terms that are relatively unattractive. Because they have 
seniority the workers will not want to leave their jobs. For this 
reason seniority may be of benefit to management by reducing 
voluntary quits. 

There is a further possible effect of seniority which may be 
unfortunate for the employee during a lay-off. Knowing that he is 
subject to recall by his old company, the worker may hesitate to 
look for work elsewhere. He may be unemployed for a long time 



SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY 15 

without looking for work, because he underestimated the duration 
of his lay-off. Moreover, if he does seek another job, other em- 
ployers may refuse to hire him because he will probably quit as soon 
as his old job opens up again. 

It would be ideal for an individual employee if seniority pro- 
tection applied in his plant, but not elsewhere. He would have 
protection on his present job, but would have no particular difficulty 
in finding other work if necessary. The widespread adoption of 
seniority means that the employee with some length of service has 
less danger of losing his job, but the consequences of job loss are 
more serious. Thus the total gain in security is less than it would 
appear if considered only in terms of the present job. 

Inter-union Friction. Seniority is sometimes a source of 
friction between unions. This is especially true on the railroads, 
where work is pretty well specialized. The workers are divided into 
several unions, all of which have seniority provisions generally 
similar, but, for the most part, inflexible. 

The two unions which are most often in conflict are the Brother- 
hood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen and the Brotherhood 
of Locomotive Engineers. The line of promotion on the railroads 
runs from fireman to engineer. Upon promotion a fireman goes on 
the extra list, and he is likely to alternate between engineer's jobs 
and fireman's jobs for several years. He keeps his fireman's seniority 
while he is accumulating seniority as an engineer. In the event of 
a lay-off he can go back to his job as a fireman, and a fireman with 
less seniority has to make way for him. This in itself is the cause 
of conflict between the two unions. 

In addition, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and En- 
ginemen provides several forms of insurance for its members. The 
insurance equity increases as long as the member retains his affilia- 
tion with the Brotherhood. By the time a worker is promoted from 
fireman to engineman he probably has a good deal of equity accumu- 
lated, which he is, of course, reluctant to give up.* 



* "Upon promotion, he may, of course, keep his membership in the fireman's 
organization, and also join the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. Many fire- 
men do that. Or he may go along with only membership in the fireman's organi- 
zation, relying on it to handle his grievances and to look after his interests generally, 
except in the making of agreements which is the prerogative of the engineer 
brotherhood. The latter organization, however, may feel justified in bringing pres- 
sure on him to join, particularly during a time of acute unemployment and declining 
membership. . . ." How Collective Bargaining Works (New York, Twentieth 
Century Fund, 1942), 352-363. 



16 SENIORITY AND JOB SECURITY 

Friction within Unions. Seniority is also a source of friction 
within the unions. This is especially true where there are great 
diversities of age and experience among the members. Older mem- 
bers will tend to favor straight seniority provisions ; because they 
have been working longer, they will naturally receive the greater 
protection. Younger workers, on the other hand, will favor plans 
for sharing the work, at least until the hours are reduced to a 
certain level. Otherwise, they will bear the brunt of all the produc- 
tion curtailment. Almost every detail of a seniority plan that would 
be better for some of the members would be worse for others. Thus 
there is likely to be more disagreement among the members on the 
type of seniority than on any other contract provision. 

CONCLUSION 

From the foregoing analysis it is clear that seniority has both 
advantages and disadvantages to employees, to management, and to 
the public. It seems probable that most of the advantages are ob- 
tained and most of the disadvantages are avoided when some devia- 
tion from straight seniority is permitted. Under modified seniority, 
the employees and unions can obtain protection against discrimina- 
tion and each employee can know his approximate order of lay-off. 
The maintenance of employee efficiency is, of course, to the interest 
of all concerned — employees, management, and the public ; effi- 
ciency is unlikely to suffer if an equitable seniority plan is ob- 
jectively administered. The very sense of individual security which 
a sound seniority plan induces among employees may well be a 
significant factor in promoting increased employee efficiency. 



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