'Seniority' issues, apparently not dissimilar to those affecting pilots and cabin crew on US-based commercial airlines, are reportedly a concern for some General Motors workers during current negotiations over new labour contracts between their United Auto Workers (UAW) union and their automaker employer.

According to the Detroit Free Press, a remnant of the contract under which General Motors' Spring Hill, Tennessee, plant operated for almost two decades as a Saturn-only plant has left workers at GM plants from Detroit to California without the benefit of many years of the corporate seniority needed to win slots on appealing shifts, lower-impact jobs and time off during prime holiday weeks.

The paper said that, in addition to over 1,000 workers in Spring Hill about whom it had recently reported, there are hundreds of workers at GM plants across the country, including many in Michigan, lobbying the union to solve the seniority problem. They reportedly want their corporate seniority restored during the national contract talks under way between GM and the UAW.

The Detroit Free Press said the issue was presented at the UAW bargaining convention in March in Detroit, and workers said they believed it was included in the initial proposal to GM from the UAW in talks that began on 23 July.

"If anything's going to happen, it's got to happen at the national level... because this affects a whole lot more people than those people still in Tennessee," Patrick Moore of Detroit, who worked at Saturn for six of the 22 years since he joined GM, told the newspaper.

The report said that, due to his 1991-97 stint at Saturn, he is recognised as having far fewer years of seniority at his current job at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly.

The paper also cited the case of Monica Williams, 45, who works at Pontiac Truck, who said her 10-year stint at Saturn cost her 15 years of seniority in the Pontiac plant - if the facility slows production in response to sluggish pickup sales, she could lose her assembly line job this year.

The paper said, for purposes of shifts, jobs, holiday selection and layoff order, Williams is "a virtual newbie", with just seven years of seniority.

The Detroit Free Press said she was part of a group of long-time GM workers who went to Saturn for job security in the 1980s or 90s and left for other GM plants before March 2005 - when Saturn's labour arrangement was melded with the rest of GM's US operations. Those workers' in-plant seniority is counted from the day they started at a non-Saturn plant, the Detroit Free Press said.

For workers who left Saturn after 7 March 2005, they lost in-plant seniority earned prior to starting there but can count in-plant seniority from their first day at Saturn.

Williams and other workers told the Detroit paper that, when workers gave up seniority rights to get a job at Saturn, it was a non-issue, because they all gave up their GM starting dates to get in the door at Saturn, and that in turn often meant escaping older, traditional GM plants as the company closed them or reduced the workforces.

At the time, GM ran Saturn as a separate division, with its own dealerships, its own plant and its own bargaining contract, the DFP added. The contract eliminated many traditional in-plant uses for union seniority and workers rotated shifts and worked on teams in which they shared jobs.

The paper said the matter highlights some of the unintended consequences of the patchwork of contracts the UAW negotiates.

In the current labor talks, the UAW is expected to weigh the needs of retirees and future workers with those of current workers, who must ratify the agreement, the Detroit Free Press added.

Similar issues have occasionally arisen in the airline industry in recent years, usually after mergers of two carriers.

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