Branch updates

News in brief from SUCU Committee.

Sheffield Strikes Back: Negotiations, picketing, rally, party!

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Dear SUCU members Thank you so much to everyone who came along to our Emergency General Meeting yesterday to discuss the dispute. We talked about the progress of negotiations nationally on both the pay and pensions disputes, and since then a further meeting with UUK has concluded with no real movement from the employers. There’s a national UCU meeting to discuss the progress of the USS dispute this coming Friday that we’re sending branch delegates to - we’ll report back from that meeting as soon as we can afterwards. We know from the communications we’ve had with national negotiators that the industrial action is having an impact on these talks, but we consider it unconscionable that it’s taken seven days of strikes to get this far. Our employers’ representative bodies are gambling with students’ education and sitting out this round of strikes in a way that it’s difficult to view as anything other than hugely cynical. We urgently need VCs across the country to step up and show some actual leadership and we will continue to do all we can to encourage Koen Lamberts in this effort. We have written to the VC asking him to take a set of concrete actions to further the USS dispute, and will be writing to him shortly regarding the pay and conditions dispute. Local negotiations have continued positively. We met the VC with officers from the SU again on Monday and covered a range of issues, including ongoing concerns around Tier 4 students, better student representation in the allocation of deducted salary money, and a discussion of the national picture. Tomorrow is our eighth day of strike action, and Thursday we will commence ASOS. As a capstone to our action, we are holding two post-picketing events. We are holding a joint rally with the Students' Union. Gather on the SU concourse at 11:30 for an 11:45 start! Later in the evening, we are hosting a fundraising party for our local fighting fund, starting at 7pm at DINA on Cambridge Street. There will be food, music, karaoke (strictly optional, bad singers positively encouraged) and some time to relax and let our hair down after all our efforts. Register for the party here and please register friends and family members as well!

Strike reporting, Deductions, and ASOS

In order to facilitate a swifter release of the salary deductions monies to departments, we are asking all members to complete their strike notification forms as soon as we are back in work on Thursday, and certainly no later than the end of the following week. We will email all members on Thursday morning regarding reporting strike days, but we ask all of you to use our reporting form instead of the one that HR has provided. Action short of a strike (ASOS) will begin on Thursday 5th December. This particular round of ASOS is asking members to refuse to undertake voluntary work, not cover for absent colleagues, not reschedule lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action and to work to contract. There is detailed information about what that means here and if you have any questions or concerns about ASOS, please contact us. We’re asking departmental reps to schedule meetings for members in departments about ASOS as soon as they can after we return to work - ASOS is collective action that is most effective when all members are upholding it together. As you are aware, salary deductions will not kick in until January and February for salaried staff. Early in the new year, we will be sending information about claiming from either the national UCU fighting fund or the local hardship fund to all members. We are conscious as ever that hourly-paid staff will not be deducted in the same way as staff on contracts, and we urge any members affected by this to contact us for more information on financial support. You will need some communication from your department that confirms the work that you should have been undertaking that you will be unable to claim for or be paid for due to strike action - this can take the form of a letter or email. Our local hardship fund is here for anyone who will experience significant financial difficulties due to strike action and we strongly encourage anyone who needs it to make a claim.

Friday update

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Dear Sheffield UCU members, Thank you all so much for an amazing week of action here at Sheffield. Our pickets continue to be loud, lively and well-attended, and Thursday’s rally wasn’t dampened by the rain. At the moment we are still expecting to be taking action again on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week and action short of a strike after that.                 

Local and national negotiations

You’ll have seen from the email that the Vice Chancellor sent to all staff yesterday that we are meeting him again on Monday, with representatives of the SU. We’ll be holding an extraordinary general meeting on Monday in the Students Union Foundry, from 11:30-12:30, and would like to see as many of you there as possible to discuss as a branch where this dispute is headed and what messages we need to take to the VC. We also need views from members to inform the position that our delegates will take at the special sector conference on USS being held on Friday 6th December. We remain optimistic that the strength of the action demonstrated across the UK is starting to shift both UCEA and UUK and will give you a more detailed update as soon as possible.

Teach Outs

Our Teach Outs will continue in Week 2 of action! Our thanks to everyone who has presented at them thus far, and to all of the attendees. We especially want to draw your attention to Monday’s sessions, which will form part of our local Disability Day of Action. Please everyone do come along following our Monday EGM. For a larger version of the poster see this link.

Party

On Wednesday 4th December we will be hosting a party at DINA on Cambridge Street (by the side of John Lewis). There will be food, music, karaoke (strictly optional, bad singers positively encouraged) and some time to relax and let our hair down after all our efforts. You can sign up for the party at the link here - please do register friends, family and other supporters too. The more the merrier! Make sure you do something you enjoy this weekend, and come back on Monday refreshed and ready to continue the action. The fight for better working conditions and learning conditions in the higher education sector won’t end next week but the work we’re doing and the action we’re taking is already making things better. As ever, if you have any questions about this or anything else to do with the industrial action, please get in touch, and follow our twitter feed for quicker updates. All best wishes SUCU Committee

A great first 3 days: Keep it up!

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*** Come to the joint rally with Sheffield Hallam on Thursday, with guest speakers including UCU General Secretary Jo Grady. And do keep coming to our teach outs - every single day after picketing at the Students' Union (more details below)***                                             Dear SUCU members, *This is a long email - you might find our short twitter thread about the outcome of Monday’s meeting with the University easier to digest* Our pickets on Monday and Tuesday were extraordinary - thank you so much to everyone who came out, held a placard, offered a leaflet, had a conversation and danced.                                   We had a lunchtime rally on Monday with speakers from our branch committee and the SU, followed by really successful teachouts on both Monday and Tuesday - it was wonderful to see so many of you there.                         <h3>Local and national negotiations </h3> After the rally, we went along with three of the SU Officers to a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor and other members of the University’s management team. This was a productive and positive meeting and all parties agreed to keep lines of communication open. We are likely to be meeting again on Monday next week. One of the items covered during the meeting was the timeline of strike pay deductions. The Vice-Chancellor has agreed that no pay will be deducted in December, and that for all members, the deductions will be split between January and February. We will continue to be in discussion with university management about the details of these deductions, and to advocate for an approach that supports our most precarious members. We are hoping that the progress we have made thus far will support members in accessing the central fighting fund. We also discussed Action Short of a Strike (ASOS), in light of the email which was sent to all staff last week. University management have clarified their intentions and assured us that they do not intend to seek deductions for action short of a strike (ASOS). They have indicated that they will be monitoring the progress of the dispute, and that if, at a point in the future they change their position on ASOS deductions, they will be in communication with staff in advance. We’d like to reiterate our advice from last week, which is that we are not aware of any deductions being made for action short of a strike for any of our members in recent memory. If you have any concerns or questions around ASOS, please do email us. When we return to work next week you do not need to confirm that you are undertaking action short of a strike by completing a form, but you should answer truthfully if your manager asks you. You will need to complete a strike notification form, and we will send a separate email about that on Monday or Tuesday next week. We were pleased to hear that the University is committed to ensuring that our salary deductions will be used for the benefit of students, who will be directly involved in the allocation of funds. We had a long discussion with the VC about the current disputes on Monday and he assured us that he will continue to do everything he can to try to resolve the disputes. Our Vice President, Robyn Orfitelli, met with UCEA yesterday alongside the rest of the pay and conditions negotiating team from UCU. Based on this discussion, UCEA have agreed to return to their member institutions, and have committed to a written response early next week. It is very clear that it was UCU's strong ballot result and the prospect of solid industrial action which have brought UCEA to the table. Our continued show of strength and commitment to all four areas of the pay, casualisation, equalities, and workload dispute is having an impact, and we need to keep it up.

Upcoming events

Our teach out continues today and Thursday - please have a look at the sessions and go along if you can, and follow us on twitter @sheffielducu for images and descriptions of the events. We will also be circulating the Teach Out schedule for next week. Tomorrow, Thursday 28th, we will gathering at the SU Concourse and making our way to Barker’s Pool for a rally hosted with Sheffield Hallam UCU. We’re delighted that Jo Grady and local MPs will be speaking there and we’d love to see as many of you as possible get involved - bring an umbrella! On Friday we will be joining the city-wide climate strike. We will set off at 11:30 from the SU Concourse down to Devonshire Green, to join the students for a 12:30 march to Barker’s Pool, followed by a rally at 1pm Please come along and help us demonstrate that Sheffield is taking the climate emergency seriously. We’d also like to give you some advance notice that the branch will be hosting a party on the evening of Wednesday 4th December. Come along to DINA on Cambridge Street for food, music, karaoke and some well-earned relaxation after all your efforts. We’ll circulate an eventbrite link for that soon - please register for yourself and any other friends, family or supporters as you choose. Thank you once again for all your efforts and for continuing to keep our pickets creative and good humoured. As ever, if you have any questions please get in touch with us and we hope to see you soon.  

Picketing Day 1

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On Monday, we will be taking strike action over our pensions, our pay, and our working conditions. No one in UCU is undertaking this action lightly. Our branch president, Sam Marsh, and vice-president, Robyn Orfitelli, are part of UCU’s national negotiating teams and have been working tirelessly to try to find solutions with the employers’ representatives. We deeply regret that the employers have so far been unwilling to make serious efforts to resolve these disputes.

Since it seems very likely that the action next week is going ahead, we want to ensure that as many of you as possible are able to participate. The information below covers what we hope is useful and accessible information about events that will be taking place this week. As ever, if you have any questions about any of this information, please email us and we will do our very best to get back to you as soon as we can. We also have made an overall SUCU industrial action guidance document which covers all of this information in one place, as well as a version of this document which is tailored for PGRs and GTAs.

Picketing

We’d like to ask all members to consider joining a picket line on as many days of the strike action as possible. Picketing is the visible symbol of a strike; it is the way in which we make visible what the withdrawal of our labour looks like. Our pickets in 2018 were sites of fun, creativity, music and fancy-dress and home baking and banners and conversations that it’s impossible to have in any other context. Please join us.

A picket line is a group of striking workers who stand near the entrance to their workplace and ask fellow union members not to cross. UCU’s guidance on picketing makes explicit that no one on a picket line should use threatening, abusive or intimidatory language or behaviour and we want to emphasise this as strongly as we can. You can ask people whether they will support the strike and offer them further information while you’re picketing but it’s hugely important that you respect people who don’t want to engage with the picketers and you must not block anyone’s access to work. Picketing should be fun! Please read the full guidance document before you join a picket.

All pickets need a ‘lead picket’, who will be responsible for collecting placards, armbands and flyers about the dispute from our office on 2 Hounsfield Road from 7.30am on each day of the strike action. If you don’t know who the lead picket from your building is, don’t worry - just come along to the office and we’ll let you know and talk it through. If you have any problems on a picket, the lead picket should call the picket supervisor’s mobile phone number and someone will be there within minutes.

Our pickets will run between 7.30 and 11.30am, but please do take a break at any point if you need to do so. You can picket where you like - many of our members like to picket the buildings they work in but this is not obligatory and we might ask people to attend pickets that have lower numbers on them during the day, or to relieve other picketers who need a break.

If you’re picketing, you can collect a free sandwich from John’s Van every day of the strike action to provide vital sustenance. And please dress up as warmly as possible!

You can use toilets at nearly cafes and the Students’ Union while you’re picketing. There’s more information on how to make picketing more accessible in our guidance document here.

Other events

On Monday there will also be a rally at 11.45am at Firth Court, with our SU, who have declared their support for our fight. Please come along to that as well if you can - the bigger the crowds, the more obvious our resistance to the erosion of our terms and conditions and the more likely it is that we will be able to negotiate productively with our local management.

We’re running a teach out on every day of the action. The teach outs in 2018 were a truly transformative space and the programme this year is just as varied and exciting. We’re so grateful to all the teach out presenters for agreeing to speak. Here is the Week 1 programme - please come along and ask questions, learn something and enjoy the possibilities of learning in a radical space.

Keeping in touch

Many of you use work email as your contact address for UCU and for that reason we ask that you check it periodically when you’re on strike specifically to see any email updates from us - please ignore the rest of your work email while you’re taking action. You can also follow us on twitter (or just read our twitter feed if you don’t have an account yourself) and on Facebook. Please get in touch with any problems, questions or concerns that you have - we know this is hard and we’re here to support you.

November Newsletter

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Upcoming Industrial Action for Pay and Pensions Disputes As you are no doubt aware by now, Sheffield UCU is preparing to join branches at 59 institutions across the country in strike action from November 25 - December 4 if agreement is not reached before then with our employers. In addition to joining the daily pickets at your building, we are developing an exciting program of teach-outs to be held at the Student Union, as well as rallies and other activities. This week, we will be holding a number of activities in the lead up to the strike (further information below). Please come along to get involved! In the meantime, if you have questions about the upcoming strike action, please review the branch guidance document here and the FAQ’s put together by our national union here.  Pre-Strike Roadshows: In addition to any department meetings your SUCU departmental rep might be organising, we are holding two ‘Roadshows’ aimed at addressing concerns and queries from staff and students, members and non-members on what the strike action will involve
  • Monday, 18 November 1-2 Dainton LT1
  • Friday, 22 November 1-2 Alfred Denny LT2
SUCU branch General Meeting: In addition to discussing any updates on the imminent industrial action, there are several important motions that have been tabled by our members. Please attend, and bring a colleague! 
  • Thursday, 21 November 1-2 Council Room Firth Court 
Banner making event and student-staff solidarity meeting: We will be meeting on Wednesday in the Red Deer pub at 4:00 pm to make banners for next week’s industrial action, and on Thursday, we will be meeting from 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm in the University Arms for banner making. On Wednesday, from 6-7pm the SU have organised a student-staff solidarity meeting in Hicks Lecture Theatre 9.   

Financial Support for SUCU Members Taking Industrial Action 

The Sheffield UCU Committee recognises the financial difficulties posed by taking part in industrial action. To help mitigate this, there are two sources of support members can apply to: UCU’s national Fighting Fund and the local SUCU Hardship Fund.

UCU Fighting Fund 

Members earning below £30,000 p.a. will be able to claim up to £75 per day from their second day of strike action onwards. Members earning more will be able to claim up to £50 from their third day of strike action onwards. We are awaiting updated guidance from UCU nationally, but applications to the Fighting Fund for the 2018 industrial action were made via an online form and required proof of loss of income e.g. payslip showing strike deductions. We will update you if there are any changes to this process.

Your first port of call should be the Fighting Fund: UCU nationally has vastly more resources than we do locally. However, we recognise that the Fighting Fund may still leave individuals in hardship, and our local SUCU Hardship Fund can then assist.

SUCU Hardship Fund

The SUCU Hardship Fund is for members who are disproportionately hit financially by taking part in industrial action, e.g. sole-income households, members on hourly-paid, part-time or fixed-term contracts, or due to other personal circumstances. Claims from lower paid members and those on insecure contracts will be prioritised.

To apply to the SUCU Hardship fund, please fill out this form. All information will be treated as strictly confidential. It will be seen only by the SUCU administrator and the SUCU Committee members responsible for agreeing payments.

Donating to the SUCU Hardship Fund

The SUCU Hardship Fund is made up of solidarity donations and branch funds. We ask members who have a dispensation not to strike to donate their earnings for the strike day/s to this fund. If you want to donate to the fund, you can do so using these details:

Account name: UCU Sheffield 70 Hardship Fund

Sort code: 60-83-01

Account number: 20391171 

Please get in touch if you have any questions.

  New Monthly Meetings for Professional Services Members Current UCU members, as well as interested non-members, are invited to attend the first monthly meeting of Professional Services members. This will be an informal meeting to specifically address this group's needs and concerns. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, 19 November from 12-1pm in Jessop Building Room 117.   Trans Day of Remembrance On Wednesday, November 20, from 5:30-6:30 pm, there will be a vigil held at Hallam Square to remember and honour the lives of trans and gender-diverse people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence in the past 12 months. A range of speakers including members of the trans community and representatives of local trans and LGBT+ organisations will speak, followed by a minutes silence to mark those we have lost this year. For further information, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/509465946563378/   New SUCU Officers Jess Meacham and Themesa Neckles have been co-opted to the branch committee as ordinary members. As a result of the vacant Vice President role and lack of candidates for the position, the branch committee has co-opted former branch Secretary Sarah Staniland into the role. Former Policy and Governance officer Lauren Selfe has been co-opted into the branch Secretary role and former ordinary committee member Caroline Metz has been co-opted into the Policy and Governance officer role.   Report Back on Democracy Commission Meeting In preparation for the upcoming special congress in December, Sheffield UCU held an extraordinary general meeting on November 1 to discuss the findings of the national union’s Democracy Commission. The Democracy Commission was created as a result of a motion brought to Congress in 2018 by Sheffield UCU to improve democracy and transparency in the union. Though our meeting was inquorate, we had a positive discussion among the members present and the minutes from this meeting were referred to the branch committee.   Report Back on Anti-Casualisation Workshop  On the 2nd of October, the SUCU anti-cas team had its first casuals workshop. We were delighted to be joined by UCU members from across the North as well as members from our own branch. The workshop covered maternity rights for casual staff, pensions rights for casual staff and a taster training on organising in the workplace. We also ran a zine making workshop with @antiprecarityCymru.  If you’re interested in taking a look at some of the materials from the event, you can access them here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1C_vIGMxLv3BAGL9XAl-_L0U-TcF5ULZr?usp=sharing  We will be publishing our zine collaboration soon so do keep your eyes peeled. Over the next few months we’ll also be arranging open meetings for casuals so watch this space!   Maternity Action Kate Moran from Maternity Action is hoping  to interview some UCU members who are on casualised contracts (such as zero hours or very short term, low hours contracts) who are either pregnant and due to go on maternity leave, currently on maternity leave or about to return to work after maternity leave - including those having problems returning to work.  Research has shown that many women are afraid of raising concerns with their employer such as health and safety risks, rights to time off to attend ante-natal appointments, requests for flexible working on their return, access to suitable facilities for those breastfeeding and expressing. Women on casual contracts are particularly susceptible fearing that their employer may offer them fewer or no hours or shifts if they raise concerns - which in turn may impact on the amount of maternity pay that they receive. Maternity Action would like to cover these types of issues and any others that women in this situation are facing by discussing them with volunteer interviewees on a one to one basis. We are hoping to recruit UCU members who are in this situation and would be willing to be interviewees. The interviews would be used in the report but would be anonymised and kept confidential. Interviews will take place over the phone at a time that suits you. If you’re interested contact Kate: katemoran@maternityaction.org.uk   Petition in Support of Professor Jane Hutton Last month, UCU-nominated USS trustee and whistleblower Professor Jane Hutton was sacked from her role in USS in a totally non-transparent process. Professor Hutton, who is an internationally recognised expert and professional statistician, brought to light significant failures in the governance of USS and the 2017 valuation process that led to an overestimation of the projected scheme deficit. Mike Otsuka covered some important work Jane has done for USS members, available here.  Our national union has raised concerns about the process of removing Professor Hutton, calling for the evidence for her removal to be released and for USS members to support her. Sheffield UCU President and national pensions negotiator Sam Marsh has suggested a reason for dismissal may have been her emailing the Joint Negotiating Committee in relation to 'three occurrences of problems in board papers intended to inform decisions on the valuation’. Professor Hutton stated that “I do not accept the validity of either the process or the decision. I will be taking a number of actions to address the process, the decisions, and the accuracy of the assumptions and modeling which underlie the 2017 & 2018 valuations."  Please consider signing the petition in support of Jane Hutton here.    Hong Kong Motion For the last few months there have been massive protests for democracy in Hong Kong which have been met with serious repression by the Chinese state and Hong Kong's administration. The were sparked by a proposed extradition agreement with China, but are also for Universal Suffrage, an inquiry into police brutality, the resignation of Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's Chief Executive, and more. There have also been significant protests in Sheffield in support of those in Hong Kong, and on October 2nd these protesters were aggressively intimidated by people defending the Chinese state's actions.  As a result, our UCU branch has passed a motion in full support of the democracy protests in Hong Kong and in Sheffield, and we encourage members to come out for demonstrations and events both in solidarity, but also to ensure the safety of the protests. At the same time, we do not support British intervention in Hong Kong or the expression of any anti-Chinese sentiment.  The motion also called on the University of Sheffield to publicly support democracy in Hong Kong, as well as taking seriously any cases of harassment or intimidation of staff and students participating in the protests.   IHRA Motion It has been the policy of our national union since its 2017 Congress to oppose adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. In conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism, the definition constitutes a threat to open debate and free discussion about the future and past of the Middle East and Palestine. The UK Government has adopted this definition of ‘antisemitism’ and urged Universities UK to advise all UK HE institutions that they should prevent meetings or events about Palestine that fall foul of the definition. Some universities have already complied with this instruction, and have banned campus events. Others have explicitly refused to adopt the definition, and have resisted outside pressure to comply. The University of Sheffield’s Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion Committee was asked to consider making a recommendation on the definition over the summer.  In our first general meeting of the school year in October, UCU members voted to support a motion opposing the university’s adoption of the definition; educating members of the campus community about antisemitism and other forms of racism; and supporting staff and students working for justice for the Palestinian people.     Solidarity Statement with Kurdish People  The Sheffield UCU committee condemns recent attacks on the Kurdish people in the Rojava region in northern Syria. Considering that Turkish and Kurdish colleagues may not be able to speak out due to threats and widespread repression of academics, journalists, activists and dissident voices on the part of the Turkish government, the Sheffield UCU committee wishes to express its solidarity with the Kurdish people, who have so often shown the way in terms of democracy, feminism and environmental activism. The Sheffield UCU committee opposes the persecution of Kurds and other ethnic minorities in Turkey, Syria, and elsewhere. We call on the UK and EU to accept far more Syrian and Kurdish refugees and resolve to support the work of ASSIST Sheffield and South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) with a donation of £200 each.