It’s time for a branch newsletter! We have had another relentless year, and our regular branch news has fallen by the wayside due to the need to prioritise more pressing communications. As the breathing space of the summer creates some brief respite before we launch into another balloting window, committee have taken some time to develop this proactive summary of various ongoing activities and issues of note.
Welcome to a New Branch Committee
As of the 1st of August, we welcomed a new SUCU branch committee, and we thank our outgoing committee for their dedicated service to the branch.
Robyn Orfitelli has stepped into the role of President, having been elected and serving as interim President following the departure of Sarah Staniland to a civil service role in April. The vice presidential team of Sam Marsh, Traci Walker, and Ed Yates have been re-elected and will continue to offer their experience in routine (and not so routine) negotiations with management. Vicky Crewe has been elected to the role of Branch Secretary after previously serving as our Policy and Governance Officer, Ben Purvis has been elected as Communications Officer, and Joe Hill has become our Environmental Officer.
We are pleased to have Pablo Stern returning as our Treasurer, Themesa Neckles as Equalities Officer, James Cranch as Membership Secretary, Matthew Malek as Pensions Officer, Tim Herrick as Personal Cases Secretary, and Mick Ashman & Jane Simm returning as Ordinary Committee Members. We welcome new Committee Members Eleanor Madley (Education Officer), David Hayes (Policy & Governance), James Bollington, Oli Johnson, and Naomi Hetherington.
We are also very happy to have a dedicated anti-casualisation team this year headed up by Alex Kirby-Reynolds (PGR officer) who is joined by Nick Burke (Anti-casualisation Officer), Remi Edwards, and Maria Alexandrescu.
We extend a huge thanks for the work of Mark Pendleton, Julian Gosliga, Lisa Stampnitzky, Andrea Genovese, and Bill Lee who are all stepping down from committee this year. We would also like to thank the departmental reps who are passing over batons this year.
Ways to Get Involved!
Our branch is entirely dependent on the collective work of its membership. This includes the routine and less routine negotiations of our branch officers with management which over the past few years have delivered, amongst numerous other things, a professorial promotion appeals process, GTA contracts, topped up furlough pay during the pandemic, and stress risk assessments.
The organisational and informational roles of our departmental reps and contacts are crucial to collectivising issues in individual workplaces, such as coordination for our local disputes involving Languages and Archaeology, pushing back against unreasonable workload demands, and bringing issues of health & safety to light.
Finally the breadth of our casework carried out by our casework team (since July 2020, we’ve supported 178 colleagues), has helped members regrade their job roles, fight back against performance management policies, and combat workplace harassment.
These activities are all undertaken by our members on a voluntary basis (though often union work can be recognised in workload allocation). As such there are always ways in which members old and new can get more involved in the branch!
- Come to meetings: We hold monthly routine General Meetings, which are often supplemented by Extraordinary General Meetings where a particular issue demands the attention of the branch as a collective. These are good points for sharing information, and all members are welcome to submit business for discussion ahead of meetings. We also hold regular monthly meetings for Professional Services members.
- Email us: Whilst our inbox is currently staffed by volunteers, and it may take a few days for a response, we welcome all enquiries big and small. Whether this is a request for casework, a query about university policy, or a question about how to get more involved, we are always happy to receive correspondence from members.
- Recruitment activities: If you are interested in recruitment activities, whether face-to-face, flyering, developing materials, or through other innovative approaches we’d love to hear from you! For those who may be apprehensive about this, we are able to offer recruitment training and support from more experienced members.
- Join our anti-casualisation network: Launched in 2020, our nascent anti-casualisation network operates as an organising hub for casualised staff and PGR members. Get more involved by signing up.
- Become a caseworker: We are actively recruiting for new caseworkers who can support members with individual workplace issues. We have a number of experienced caseworkers who are happy to train up new caseworkers through shadowing and offering support, advice, & expertise.
- Become a departmental rep or contact: A list of departmental reps and contacts is available on our website. The dissemination of information both to and from the committee is greatly aided by having reps in each department. If your department doesn’t have a rep, consider volunteering, and drop us an email. A number of departments have several reps who share the role and distribute responsibilities, so if you already have a departmental rep, consider contacting them to see if they would like support.
- Help out with our GTVO campaign: You can volunteer to send text messages to other UCU members to encourage them to vote, or help your departmental contact organise things within the department.
These are just some examples of how you can get more involved with the branch. As always, any enquiries should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Update on Working Groups
As part of the agreement that Sheffield UCU members made with management to halt our marking and assessment boycott, management agreed to the formation of several time limited ‘task and finish’ groups.
Last week, members of the committee met with HR and agreed the terms of reference for two of these groups: professional services workload, and gender, race, and disability equality in academic promotions. In the coming weeks, these groups will begin their work, and we will report back to you regularly about their progress.
We have also met with management to discuss the professional services staff development programme, and we are pleased to report that an outcome of this discussion is an agreement to revisit and improve the policies that underpin the professional services promotions and regrading process.
For each of these three policy areas, particularly the professional services promotions and regradings group, we have had a terrific expression of interest from members for being involved in the development of the branch position, and in the negotiations themselves. If you have expressed interest in being involved in continuing work on professional services staff workload and promotions equalities, we will be in touch soon, and if you want to be involved but haven’t let us know yet, please do!
We will continue to update you on the progress of the other aspects of the agreement, including the anti-casualisation claim, and the re-formation of the USS working group.
The local agreement obtained from the marking and assessment boycott committed to negotiations around casualisation, and in particular Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) conditions. Our anticas network has been working on a local claim for the past year, and the new team on committee will be spearheading this moving forward.
Expect to hear much more shortly, as there will be several exciting events and developments coming up, including a bargaining survey for casualised members, an in person organising event in early September, and activities during PGR welcome week.
You can sign up to keep up to date with our network’s organising activities using the following Google form.
#ucuRISING & Ballot News
Our sister union UNISON, which represents many of our Professional Services colleagues, is currently balloting members on the paltry, way below inflation, pay offer made by UCEA, and colleagues in Unite are moving towards a ballot.
UCU members who have been paying attention to the recent flood of emails from National may have watched the recent campaign launch and should be aware that preparations are underway for a massive sector wide ballot on the Four Fights and USS disputes. This follows from votes taken at Sector Conference in June, and the input of members who were surveyed locally prior to this.
The date that the ballot will be open has not yet been confirmed, though we expect the balloting window to open in early September and run for 7 weeks. This will be an aggregate ballot, meaning that the 50% turnout threshold is applied to the voting membership as a whole, rather than individual branches. This creates strength in unity, meaning that all branches across the sector will be able to participate should the threshold be met and a ‘yes’ vote be returned. As the ballot is conducted by post, it is vital that your details are up to date on the MyUCU portal.
Our local campaign kicks off with next week’s All Staff Meeting taking place on Monday 15th August at 1pm. We are inspired by the energy of the national campaign which aims to reach all members, empowering branch activists, whilst endeavouring to listen to and bring along those who find the thought of further industrial action daunting.
Report on our Local Disputes
It has been some time since we have reported on the status of our local dispute with the University relating to the planned closure of the Department of Archaeology, and the restructures of School of Languages and Cultures. Members within the impacted departments will no doubt be aware of ongoing developments, however for the benefit of the wider membership, our Senior Vice President, Sam Marsh, and outgoing committee member, Julian Gosliga, who both acted as negotiators for the local dispute, have prepared a report on the local disputes, which we recommend reading in full.
As of May 2022, the mandate for local action has ended. Following negotiations, management have made assurances on job security. Within Archaeology, the majority of fixed-term contracts have been extended to September 2024, and the current proposals aim to move all staff to the departments of History and Biosciences. Within SLC, Phase 3 of the languages restructure has been scrapped, with assurances that there are no plans to reduce staff numbers within the ongoing Phase 2 changes.
The University’s position shifted significantly after members showed their willingness to take action. While cast-iron assurances over compulsory redundancies have not been obtained, it is not immediately clear what further assurances could result from industrial action. It is thus the view of negotiators, Dispute Committee, and branch committee, that there is nothing to be gained from escalating the dispute at this stage, and the best approach is to stay vigilant for developments and react accordingly.
In Memoriam: Dr Tim Searle
It is with sadness that we have learned of the passing of Dr Tim Searle who served on the Sheffield AUT Branch Committee (the predecessor of SUCU) in various roles, including as Branch President, before retiring from the committee in 2006. Tim had been an academic in the Department of Physics and Astronomy since the early 1970s, and had served on the University’s Council as an elected representative of the Senate from 2000 until his retirement from the University in 2008.
Activists who were on the branch AUT committee remember Tim as a champion of EDI, carefully scrutinising policy documents and working tirelessly to defend members both through casework and collectively. Tim was Branch President during the 2004 marking and assessment boycott, which won a multi-year pay deal above inflation. We would like to offer our condolences to Tim’s friends, family, and colleagues.
News from across the sector
Queen Mary University continues to trash its reputation by ‘unlawfully’ withholding pay from staff involved in a marking and assessment boycott. The SUCU branch committee recently voted to donate £250 to the QM UCU hardship fund (the discretionary spending limit committee is able to approve without bringing to a general meeting). Members can donate to the hardship fund here.
Unite members working for UCU are currently in dispute relating to their annual pay deal. Committee extends its full solidarity to these members, and support to fellow union members seeking inflation matched pay adjustments. We hope that the dispute can be swiftly resolved.
In more positive news, we extend our congratulations and solidarity to the UCU branches at Open University and Goldsmiths who have both recently seen important wins. The OU have, following extensive negotiations from the local UCU branch, agreed to roll out permanent contracts for 4800 associate lecturers. This huge win has slashed the number of UK teaching only staff on fixed-term contracts by a massive 15% over night! Goldsmiths meanwhile have finally come to the end of a long and bitter dispute relating to staffing cuts, with a commitment to no further redundancies.
TUC Rally: Saturday 20th August 11am
Sheffield TUC are holding a rally and demonstration from 11am on Saturday 20th August outside Sheffield Station. The rally will be protesting inflation and pay cuts whilst profits soar, and will be standing in solidarity with striking workers from the RMT and CWU.
Upcoming meeting dates
Whilst we anticipate a number of extraordinary meetings will be organised during the national #ucuRISING campaign, and the launch of the ballot window, we have begun to populate our calendar with our regular meeting dates.
- All Staff Meeting: Monday 15th August, 1pm (add to calendar)
- Professional Services Members Meeting: 8th September, 1pm (save the date)
- General Meeting: 13th September, 1pm (save the date)
- General Meeting: 12th October, 1pm (save the date)
- General Meeting: 17th November, 1pm (save the date)
If you made it to the end of this email, we commend your resilience! Email is a key tool for us to communicate with members, and we try to ensure all our correspondence is informative and necessary. We are ramping up towards a critical campaign with the goal to deliver a sector-wide supermajority within our ballot, and send the strongest message possible to employers. If there is just one thing we ask of all members, it is to read (or at least skim!) our emails. An informed branch is a strong one, and together we can fight back against the hostile landscape created by our employers and leaders.
Yours in solidarity,