Branch reports

UCU members at University of Liverpool held a packed week of events with door-knocking, induction event for new staff, meeting with Sally Hunt speaking and a drop-in employment rights surgery aimed at staff on casual contracts.

UCU members at University of Liverpool held a packed week of events with door-knocking, induction event for new staff, meeting with Sally Hunt speaking and a drop-in employment rights surgery aimed at staff on casual contracts.

University of Southampton UCU branch marked recruitment week with an information stand, distribution of local newsletter and ‘floor walking’ of various departments.

University of Southampton UCU branch marked recruitment week with an information stand, distribution of local newsletter and ‘floor walking’ of various departments.

Leeds City College Technology site held a staff social event with wine and cheese - discussion focussed on the positive work being done by UCU at the college and the issues facing staff and students lives.

Leeds City College Technology site held a staff social event with wine and cheese – discussion focussed on the positive work being done by UCU at the college and the issues facing staff and students lives.

Bridgwater College branch staffed a stall at reception for two days with lots of staff visiting to enquire about joining the union.

Bridgwater College branch staffed a stall at reception for two days with lots of staff visiting to enquire about joining the union.

UCU activist Rosemary Jane

UCU activist Rosemary Jane

Sue and Ben - members at University of Portsmouth.

Sue and Ben – members at University of Portsmouth.

National recruitment week stall at Bournemouth University

National recruitment week stall at Bournemouth University

Aberdeen UCU are running a fortnight of recruitment events with infornation stalls across campus every day offering freebies and on the spot assistance to join up online.

Susan Melvin

Here at Llandrillo we have volunteers who make sure that all the staff are aware of what is happening in FE and what the union is doing nationally and at branch level. We issue a monthly news letter to all our members but then have volunteers; at least one in each staff room, that will bring up the issues in the newsletter and make it a topic of conversation in their particular office.

It’s increased the profile of the branch with the academics and meant we have a lot more people (old and new) wanting to join.

Dave Roberto

Aberdeen UCU are holding an information/recruitment stall at the Foresterhill campus. There is a higher proportion of researchers at Foresterhill so we have loads of relevant info on display! We are offering a free mug to ayone who signs up on the spot! “Don’t be a mug – join your union!”

Susan Melvin

The University of Aberdeen has refused to provide lists of starters and leavers – but after some negotiation they have agreed to send out a recruitment email on our behalf to all staff. We are doing this in conjunction with the other campus unions and look forward to seeing if this generates any new joiners!

Susan Melvin

Mapping members is an important task. We at Oxford UCU began mapping our members after HR refused to pass on the names of new joiners of the university. We currently cannot carry out a targeted mail shot. So we need to make the data we have do more work!

Mapping members is particularly vital in Oxford because we have a very disparate site. There is no central campus, rather an assortment of colleges and departments in small (and not so small) buildings which are scattered around the city. Working out where to run recruitment stalls or go door-knocking is not straightforward. Mapping helps with this.

Over the past few months, then, we have been compiling an Excel document which calculates the density of membership in each division and department. The density is simply the percentage of all eligible academic and academic-related staff that are members of UCU. Some broad trends emerged (we have fewer members in the sciences than the Humanities and Social Sciences). There were also some surprising results which we could have not predicted based on anecdotal evidence or feedback from reps. Including reps on the document (and soon, local contacts) helps us calculate where reps make a difference and where we need more.

Our mapping spreadsheet must be a live document. We are now in the process of sending it to the reps for their comments and will continue to refine it over the coming months. We will update the figures at regular intervals. A recruitment drive is crucial for the health of the union. But recruitment must also be sustainable and these figures should give our campaigns greater force and precision for some time to come.

Chloe Jeffries

We have contacted all of the members who have joined within the last couple of years to ask them what inspired them to join the union. We will collate their answers and use this to develop targetted recruitment material and to establish what the most effective communication methods are. So far, most people report that they joined as a result of being persuaded by a colleague in their workplace.

Susan Melvin

We have found that our newer members are more receptive to requests to sign up as UCU Contacts and they provide an enthusiastic poster-sticking service. We aim to refresh the posters on campus every few weeks to keep the displays fresh and relevant. We hope this low-level introduction to trade union activity will lead to greater engagement in future.
Members who have had the benefit of personal case support themselves have proved to be our best source of volunteers to undergo reps/casework training. With the number of members needing support always on the increase, it is great to have a larger pool of trained reps on hand to offer understanding, support and advice to members in need.

Susan Melvin

Recruitment campaign update, 17 June 2013: Aberdeen UCU has exceeded its recruitment target for this academic year and is in good shape to meet its annual target of 5% growth. Since we began our recruitment campaign on April 30th, we’ve had 23 new members join. We’ve also got 2 (possibly 3) new department contacts and 2 new caseworkers. Whilst we’ve had some leavers we still have a great growth rate. Thanks to everyone involved for making this such a successful campaign.

Susan Bateman

Using lists which we receive monthly from HR, Lancaster UCU send recruitment e-mails to all new staff. E-mails are tailored to meet staff employment role and reasons for, and benefits of, joining UCU. We also attend staff induction events and receive participant lists of staff who are attending. We e-mail participants both before and after the event to raise awareness of Lancaster UCU and to follow up any enquiries we received at the event. We have found this combination of targeted e-mails and speaking directly to new staff at staff induction events to be successful.

One of our priorities is researchers. We established a university researchers’ networking group last year. Networking sessions are facilitated by Lancaster UCU and help researchers from across the university meet up, discuss and identify issues of concern. These are then raised with the university. The networking group is open to all research staff (UCU and non UCU members) and faculty-based research groups have also been established. The networking group ran a survey recently to gather views and feedback from researchers at Lancaster. The results of this survey have been submitted to the Vice Chancellor and various university committees to support our requests for improvements to the visibility, recognition, equality of treatment and career progression of researchers at Lancaster. We are experiencing a significant growth in research staff joining UCU as a result of these activities.

(Lancaster University is another branch that has bucked the trend by growing over the last year, Ed.)

Louise Banton

At the University of West London we are using negotiations over contracts and role profiles to build membership and develop contacts in the schools.

We took advantage of a well attended branch meeting by asking everyone there to take away a membership form and try and recruit one colleague to the union. We spoke at the beginning of the meeting about the importance of strengthening our negotiating position through increased membership and how recruiting one colleague was something positive that each one of them could do to contribute – how the members were the union, not the negotiators or reps at the front of the room.

We stood at the door and handed everyone a membership form as they left. Some people even wanted to take two or three!

We had nine new members join in the week after that meeting which is a huge spike and very important for a branch that has shrunk more than many over the last few years through university cuts.

We also used branch meetings to try and recruit local contacts. We prepared a sign-in sheet to send round and included on it a tick-box for people to say they would like to hear more about being a local contact. We introduced the concept at the start so people knew what we were talking about, and also got the committee to ‘sign-in’ first and tick the box to get the ball rolling, so to speak. The uptake wasn’t high, but we got a couple of people saying they were interested and it is another way of trying to get potential local contacts to come forward.

Laura Flynn

The idea of ‘cold-calling’ to someone’s office door can be daunting and something that many are not comfortable with.

Yet people respond very well to the union coming and visiting them in their offices, rather than waiting for them to come to us, which usually only happens if there’s a problem; the classic customer-provider relationship from servicing. If you start by giving your apologies for disturbing them, and you will only take up a few minutes of their time, you will very likely get a positive response.

Walkabouts show members – and potential members – that the union is active and visible. It can also send that message to management, which can be very useful during negotiations. They are also something that becomes quite normal very quickly and no longer daunting.

I usually approach a walkabout by having both a leaflet and something that we are asking people to do. Leaflets and newsletters are good as they give you a reason for visiting them rather than purely to recruit. They are also useful if people are not in their offices as you can leave them under doors or on desks so that staff know the union has been to visit them.

Holding a branch meeting a week after a walkabout gives them something they have to do from your visit, both to attend themselves and to spread the word to their colleagues – making them feel like they have some responsibility for the union’s success, that they are the union. It can be particularly useful to make a branch meeting members only in this situation, especially if the meeting includes an important update to a campaign or dispute, as this may be a motivation for them to join in the intervening period. This gives you an opportunity to ask if they are already a member, if they’re not, you can then hand them a membership form and talk about why they should join. If they are a member, ask them to take a form and approach someone who isn’t.

We’ve had particular success with walkabouts at Kingston University. One walkabout where we handed out a leaflet publicising a series of branch meetings gained us 9 new members in the following week, with 4 joining either that day or the day after.

For another walkabout, we focussed on getting signatures for the branch’s Open Letter to the Board of Governors requesting they halt management’s proposals on promotion and progression, and promoting a lobby of the Governors the following week. The walkabouts contributed to the branch getting over 400 signatures and a strong turnout at the lobby.

As well as the main site, we have also conducted walkabouts at of the smaller campuses at Kingston, as staff at smaller sites can feel more than most that the union is remote and detached from them. We had a good response with people appreciating our efforts and feeding back useful information.

Laura Flynn

We discussed the local contacts idea at LeSoCo (formally Lewisham and Southwark colleges) and at the Southwark Waterloo site they have decided to make it a network of ‘Room Reps’.

This came out of the workplace organisation not really fitting the departmental model. Also, all of their staff are in shared offices, with about 15 of them across the site.

We sat down and mapped where each of these offices where. We then went through them one by one and the branch thought of someone they could approach to be the ‘Room Rep’, whether it be the person who always turns up to meetings, or someone they’d done casework for that may want to give back to the union. The only rule was that it couldn’t be someone who was on committee or an existing rep.

We also said allocated who was going to make the approach to these people and then armed them with a copy of the UCU role description for local contacts. We also noted offices where we didn’t have any members and a committee member has ‘adopted’ them for the moment until we can recruit some members and then hopefully a local contact.

We might change the title to ‘Room Contacts’ if we find the term rep is discouraging, but the branch likes the alliteration for the moment!

Laura Flynn

To raise awareness of our AGM held on 22nd May, the team at Harper organised for lots of lovely UCU cupcakes to be available in the staff common room. The meeting went well, the cupcakes went down a storm and we have also recruited new members as a result of the event, so good news all round!

Rebecca Payne

Aberdeen UCU has set itself an ambitious target of achieving 5% growth by June 2014 and we’ve got off to a good start by recruiting 14 new members over the course of May 2013. Here are just a few of the things we’re doing:

• refreshing the material we use for local staff inductions, creating a “what you need to know to work here” presentation;
• improving our welcome pack for new starters, including the addition of a greetings card that congratulates them on getting a new job.
• producing local recruitment leaflets aimed at particular groups of
• Updating our website with local activities and the web address publicised in a variety of ways.

Our contacts and reps play a vital role this activity. Our aim is to strengthen our links with them by meeting them and discussing the most appropriate ways to recruit their colleagues. But we’re also trying to ensure that we have a contact in every work area by emailing our members encouraging them to take up this role.

Whilst the branch is working hard to recruit new members it hasn’t lost sight of the need to retain its current ones. Our publicity group is discussing ways to improve communication to demonstrate to its members all the activities that the branch is undertaking on their behalf. There are plans to improve the website and hard copy and email newsletters.

Susan Bateman

Aberdeen University UCU has developed a detailed plan for building our local association. This has involved:

1. Creating a comprehensive department by department table/map indicating who is our rep or contact in each case, how many non-members there are there and developing a plan for recruiting in each department.

2. Using a tailored approach to non-members in various departments – we use emails that address their concerns and make the case for UCU membership wherever we can. We use the same approach when we’re writing to members asking them to become contacts or reps and wherever possible, we phone them up and talk to them about how they can help.

We’ve also had great support from UCU Organisers. They helped us to develop our plan and got stuck in with a few days of intensive recruitment, walking the floors in our target departments, together with local reps or contacts wherever possible and doing the really basic face-to-face contact with non-members.

Having a proper map that records what the plan is in each department and what action has been taken is helping us to focus our efforts effectively. Combining sensitively used email communication with face-to-face approaches gives us the best chance of reaching busy staff and making sure they are aware of us and thinking about joining.

(NB: Aberdeen is another growing branch and its recruitment campaign is already bearing fruit. Ed.)

Susan Bateman

We emailed members from depts/colleges/institutions in Cambridge where as yet we have no contacts. We used the model letter, slightly amended to suit here and we’ve had 6 positive responses. We’re now in the process of arranging to meet them.

Rachel Hayes

City of Bristol College have recruited 7 new contacts following an Emergency General Meeting to discuss management’s failure to consult on proposed redundancies. The contacts were recruited to hand out newsletters, putting up posters, talking to colleagues and potentially to help out at staff inductions.

Dave O'Toole

Cornwall College have recruited 10 new contacts in the last few weeks, in the first instance to help the branch distribute its newsletters among all staff. The branch has fought off attacks on sick pay and workloads and is now facing a threat to its contracts. As a geographically dispersed branch, newsletters advertising site meetings are really important and the branch has recruited new contacts to help with distributing these newsletters in the first instance.

Dave O'Toole

At Exeter University, we’ve worked really hard to improve communications with members and raise the profile of the union more generally. We had a new committee and a couple of big local issues around the closure of a cafe and local pay bargaining and we made sure that members were kept in regular email contact with what was happening. We also produced a regular newsletter and a team of local contacts who volunteered to distribute the newsletter to all members and to non-members too. At a time when the union was more actively campaigning locally, just having a higher profile and better communications seems to have helped recruitment and this membership in the branch is now growing.

Dave O'Toole

At Southampton University, we’ve worked hard to embed recruitment of new members into our branch’s activity.

Every month we send a pack promoting UCU membership to all the new staff joining the university. The pack contains a letter, information about the union and a copy of our local newsletter.

Every three months or so, the university holds an induction for new staff and we have made sure we get a 30 minute slot with the other unions. We run a presentation, show the ‘Day in the Life’ video and hand out information packs to staff, including an application form and the ‘reasons to join UCU’ leaflet.

We’ve also tried to make sure we’re targeting fixed-term contract staff and those at the start of their careers by holding stalls at the university’s researchers’ seminars.

We’ve also tried to make sure that we’re recruiting around local activity in support of national campaigns (Anti-Casualisation , stress and bullying) and we hold stalls whenever we’re promoting local campaigns, such as around fixed-term contracts.

Amanda Bitouche

We’ve had some success in putting together teams of volunteers to distribute newsletters. At Exeter University there is now a team of more than 20 people in, mapped to departments, with about 12 out of twenty or so buildings having at least two newsletter deliverers. These people are in addition to the existing committee.

We made a target list that included:
1. all the people who ticked a box saying they were willing to help from a recent General Meeting
2. everyone who ticked the box on the application form to get involved over the last two years.
3. We also approached people who had joined the branch within six months.

This was about 100 or so people. All were contacted and asked whether they would be prepared to helkp distribute our newsletter. Not all those who came forward were eventually used in this way (if six volunteered for one building, for example).

The branch has had a number of issues to tackle over the past year but having regular newsletters and keeping people involved with events has meant that that membership figures has risen dramatically. Over 80 new members have joined this academic year and 18 joined in March.

Dave O'Toole

At Glasgow University, we got a list of all the people who ticked the box on the application form to ‘get involved’ over the last year and send them a letter.

The letter was adapted from the ‘build the union’ letter and I personalised them a bit depending on what job the person was doing in their department.

After I sent out the emails, 15 folk came back to me agreeing to be contacts. I will be meeting with most of them over the next couple of weeks to discuss the role and give them application forms, posters etc. The heartening thing about this is that most came from subjects like Maths and Physics and not so many from our typical arts and humanities demographic.

Claire Johnston

Here at Birmingham University, we’ve been working for a while on building up a network of local contacts and new reps. During our recent dispute and industrial action ballot we held a series of departmental meetings and from these we recruited 8 new contacts and reps. Our contacts are asked to put up posters and distribute information to their members, to raise the profile of the union in their area and to help us recruit non-members. We’re also organising a ‘refresher session’ for our contacts that covers the importance of workplace organising, making UCU visible in their workplace, recent local developments and recruiting non-members.

Russ Whitfield

Communication with members and not-yet-members is also be high on the list of priorities for St Andrews UCU. We plan to implement improvements to the website, to start producing regular newsletters, and to send out weekly emails to members with local news. We are also developing local publicity posters and will be asking for volunteers to “model” for the posters…

Susan Melvin

We have set up a number of working groups at St Andrews to address the main issues members have identified as being most important. Each working group will take on responsibility for investigating what the problems are, if there are any “hotspots” within the university, what the union (and the university) can do to address the problems and generally try to improve matters for our members. The groups will each comprise around 4 members and will be led by the relevant committee officer. The groups will organise their own meeting schedules and the group leader will report back to committee on a regular basis.

The three initial groups will be focusing on (a) Workload/Stress/Bullying, (b) Communication & Recruitment, and (c) REF.

Susan Melvin

At St Andrews we will be holding General Meetings and Open Meetings throughout the academic year and will try to find venues and times that suit as many members as possible. We advertise the meetings as far in advance as possible, and get emails and posters out ahead of time to ensure members all know about them in plenty of time. We are also happy to organise departmental meetings on request.

Susan Melvin

Recruitment of new members is a big priority at St Andrews and we will be attending induction meetings for new staff, sending out information to all new staff members and looking at more ways to try and encourage colleagues to join UCU. We have already been in touch with other branches and with UCU HQ to get some ideas from them about what we can do to run a successful recruitment campaign. There will be a “Sharing Best Practice” meeting for Scottish branches and we’ll be sending some reps along to that to get some more ideas.

Susan Melvin

Extract from St Andrews branch action plan, developed in consultation with our members:

You want more local representatives: Our local committee of volunteers already work very hard representing you at university meetings, helping members with workplace problems, attending national meetings etc. We would love to be able to help more of our members – and we need YOU to help us help you! Volunteer as a departmental rep or learning rep, train as a case worker, join the committee (see chart below for vacancies), help stick up posters, hold departmental meetings, contribute to the newsletter, recruit a friend or two… Any help you can give, however little it might seem, will be greatly appreciated and it all counts! There are regular training events for reps and the local/regional officers are here to support and advise you every step of the way.

Susan Melvin

Every year our branch does something to celebrate International Women’s Day. Following a report that some of our female students are apparently signing up to a sexploitation website – of the ‘sugar-daddy’ kind (sic) to ‘earn’ income during term time, we are sponsoring a debate, organised by our Students Association, on Sexual Exploitation of students in Scotland. We have a roundtable with experts in the area, and a former BBC journalist taking part. It will be filmed as well for posterity.

Update: here’s the film:

Douglas Chalmers

Here at St Andrews we have been working quite hard to increase the number of UCU Contacts that we have across the university.

It’s been hard going sometimes and we still have a few gaps – though I’m pleased to say that we have managed to fill quite a few spaces!

1. I contact all new members on a monthly basis to welcome them to the branch.
2. I get everyone who attends a General Meeting to sign a sheet giving their name and dept. There is also a “tick me” column where they can opt to be contacted about taking a more active role in the local branch. If they tick it, I follow up with a personal email referring to the meeting they’ve just been at and giving them an idea of what sorts of things they could help with. As far as possible, I try to target the “vacancies” to the person in question!
3. I send weekly or fortnightly updates to local members – sometimes I include a bit about looking for new Contacts – not every week though, or they’ll stop reading it!
4. We think that calling them UCU Contacts is better than Dep Reps as many of them don’t want to be “reps”.

Susan Melvin

Reading University UCU is joining with our sister unions, Unite and UNISON, for a week-long celebration of union activities and achievements here on campus. There will be talks about trade unionism, panel discussions on equality, the REF and derecognition, stalls, a film and an opportunity for people to meet for a drink and a chat. All events are open to both members and non-members.


Reading UCU