An Overview of Seniority

Seniority is established strictly on an employee’s date of hire and is coveted by workers because of the privileges the senior worker enjoys over the junior bargaining unit member.

The extent of such right is determined by the particular contract governing the perks of seniority. For example, the most senior workers have increased access to jobs and some protection from layoffs. In addition to the above, seniority can control promotion, transfer, recalls to work after a layoff, pension, rates of pay, hours of work, training, and any other term or benefit of employment.

Some employment benefits are non-competitive; every employee receives more vacation time or a greater pension as his length of employment increases regardless of the length of his co-worker’s employment. Other rights and benefits, such as promotion, layoffs, and recall rights are competitive. The seniority system ranks the employees based on relative length of employment, so that when two or more employees apply for one job, the one with more seniority will get it.

Plant-wide seniority exists when competitive seniority is based on length of employment in all department and crafts in a particular plant. The seniority roster will include the names of everyone in the plant, ranked according to length of service in the plant. Job or craft seniority exists when competitive seniority is based on length of employment in a particular job or craft, regardless of department and perhaps plant; again, the roster will include everyone in the job or craft, ranked according to length of service in the job or craft. However, there can be separate job or craft seniority for each plant.

A collective bargaining agreement can provide that employment rights and benefits be controlled solely by length of employment or in addition to other factors such as education, experience with the same employer, experience with other employers, quality of performance, etc. Employers prefer if other factors, like skill and ability, control seniority because they want the best employees on the job regardless of time spent with the union. As you can imagine, unions vehemently oppose including skill and ability in collective bargaining agreements.

Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm with offices in central and northeast Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. Austin Legal’s Concierge Legal Services program is relied upon by companies to remain compliant and competitive. If you have employees, you need Concierge Legal Services. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at