Advice about the UCU strike

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Craftwork's picture
Craftwork
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Feb 23 2018 21:22
Advice about the UCU strike

Most UCU members at the place that I work voted for strike action.

I assume that non-teaching/administrative staff are also entitled to walk out(?) If so, would it be better if I temporarily join UCU? Or should I just call-in sick?

Thanks in advance.

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Feb 23 2018 21:39

I don't work in the university sector, however my understanding is that non-teaching staff are in a different bargaining unit to teaching staff, and so legally are not entitled to walk out as such. However I would check with UCU in your workplace.
If you are in the same bargaining unit, and would be eligible for UCU membership, then you can strike and are legally protected, whether or not you are a member (although probably you would be best off being a member anyway).
Definitely I would advise against calling in sick, as you can be sacked for dishonesty. Whereas even if you were not in the same bargaining unit, and so have no legal protection for striking, you can just say it is against your principles to cross a picket line. Then if you were disciplined or sacked you could argue it was discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, which is a protected characteristic under the equality act.

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Feb 23 2018 21:39

I think the relevant union for your grade will most likely be Unison, I would say ask for advice from your local branch. I do know at least one uni admin worker who's felt pressured to cross picket lines because her Unison branch explicitly told her she'd be in breach of contract if she didn't, but I have also seen a post from someone saying that their HR department had advised that Unison members refusing to cross will not be subject to disciplinary action, so I think it's going to vary from uni to uni and quite possibly department to department.
Idk what libcom's policy is on cross-board linking, but there is a pretty active (5 pages so far) U75 thread on the dispute with contributions from various UCU members and non-teaching uni workers, so it might be worth asking for advice there... but ultimately I think it's going to come down to the situation at your own workplace. Good luck!

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Feb 23 2018 21:45

Yeah we have no problem with cross-board linking (as long as it is not to fascist websites etc)

that admin worker you know technically received correct advice from her union branch. However that doesn't really mean much: any strike action is technically a "breach of contract" (because your contract requires that you work). The normal employer response to this breach of contract is that they then do not pay you for the times you are not there working for them.

That's helpful that HR have specifically said other union members refusing to cross will not be disciplined. Craftwork I would check if that is the case where you are. Also more generally I would have thought that this would be the case for most public sector employers in the UK, that they would not penalise people for refusing to cross picket lines, other than by not paying them

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Feb 23 2018 22:38

Thanks for the information. This is not a university, but a FE college, and is led by complete reactionaries, HR are extremely hostile to the action. They are forcing teaching staff to sign a register of attendance on the two days of the strike, and if any teaching staff don't turn up, they have to provide written proof for illness, etc. otherwise they'll be assumed to have been participating in the strike. You're right, I think Unison, not UCU is for workers of my "field".

Nevertheless, I am committed to not working on the strike days and will find a way!

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Feb 24 2018 15:49

There's also an ongoing teachers' strike in West Virginia (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/23/us/west-virginia-teachers-strike.html), all public schools were shut down on Thursday/Friday in an 'illegal', wildcat strike by teachers.

The kind of proposed "pay rise" for teachers in West Virginia is similar to where I work - around the 1 percent mark - another indication that the problem of capitalist attacks on workers' living standards transcends any local, national or sectoral boundaries.

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Feb 24 2018 18:14
Craftwork wrote:
Thanks for the information. This is not a university, but a FE college, and is led by complete reactionaries, HR are extremely hostile to the action. They are forcing teaching staff to sign a register of attendance on the two days of the strike, and if any teaching staff don't turn up, they have to provide written proof for illness, etc. otherwise they'll be assumed to have been participating in the strike. You're right, I think Unison, not UCU is for workers of my "field".

Nevertheless, I am committed to not working on the strike days and will find a way!

FWIW, UK law stipulates that illness is to be self-certified for the first 7 days. They can't require a doctor's note until day 7. Again FWIW:

http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/n/m/G03_1.pdf

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Feb 24 2018 19:43

Yeah but chilli sauce this action is taking place over 3 weeks

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fingers malone
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Feb 24 2018 21:35

If it's in FE it's only two days next week as far as I know? But it may escalate if there's no settlement. I have heard of workers being told they need a doctor's note if they call in sick on a strike day, whether that is legal is another matter.

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Feb 24 2018 22:38

The FE strike is two days, I have one off, I just need to bag the other one. At my place, they say they'll ask teaching staff to register, but I don't know, they might ask all staff to do so, and teaching staff that are absent on that day will need to provide written evidence.

I think this is the standard Unison position that applies across the board (http://unisonuos.co.uk/2018/02/uss-pension-update/):

UNISON Advice

UNISON encourages members in universities to support their UCU colleagues on picket lines and lunchtime protests and attend rallies organised by UCU. Branches are encouraged to engage with the local UCU branch to see what activities are taking place on site and think of ways that we can show solidarity, within the constraints of current legislation.

However, UNISON members in universities have not yet been balloted in relation to the USS dispute, and therefore must continue with their normal duties and responsibilities. However UNISON members should not take on any additional responsibilities given to them as a result of the UCU industrial action. If members are instructed by their manager to undertake additional duties resulting from the industrial action they should contact their branch or regional office for further advice

Members are reminded that due to industrial relations legislation only those employees who have been involved in a legal ballot are allowed to take industrial action.

Official Picket Lines

Refusal to cross an official picket line could render members of staff liable to disciplinary action including deduction of salary. The exception to this is where there are genuine grounds to believe that crossing the picket line could put the person concerned at risk of injury.

UNISON members are advised that they should assure the UCU members that they will not undertake any work normally done by those on strike.

Closures

If the university decides to close the premises and staff are unable to undertake their duties, UNISON members should not suffer any deduction of pay or be expected to work additional hours to make up the time.

Mike Harman
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Feb 25 2018 08:12
Craftwork wrote:
There's also an ongoing teachers' strike in West Virginia (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/23/us/west-virginia-teachers-strike.html), all public schools were shut down on Thursday/Friday in an 'illegal', wildcat strike by teachers. .

Not sure it matters but while it's unlawful it's not a wildcat as such since the union is organising it.

doug
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Feb 25 2018 09:47

I was in a similar position to you, classed as admin staff at a university and a member of Unison which represents my pay grade. I found out that I could be a member of the UCU - which quietly recruits any HE/FE staff outside of cleaners and security - and that being a member of the UCU was enough to join the strike*. That's what I've done and I've been on the picket from the start. I'll find out how my manager reacts next week.

* Though, employers can't ask you what union you're in, right?

wimpled off
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Feb 25 2018 10:06

I was working in a casual non-union job at a place where one of the unions was going on strike. Management said no one could have leave, sick, work from home etc. There was a small picket line on the day that wasn't actually engaging with anyone going into workplace. I asked if they were wanted people like me not to go in; they said yes so I turned around and went home. Management just assumed I was 'intimidated'. I wasn't paid that day but didn't face any comeback. Don't know if that's any help.

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Feb 25 2018 11:10

Thinking about it, that Unison advice is really unhelpful (I know, Unison being unhelpful, who'd've thought it?) in how it just says "liable to disciplinary action including deduction of salary". Like, surely any person, UCU member or not, refusing to cross a picket is liable to deduction of salary, the important question is whether employees who haven't been involved in the ballot are liable for extra disciplinary actions on top of that, which it's kind of frustratingly unclear about. Have you spoken to many of your colleagues, do you know if many of them are consdering not crossing or the like?

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Feb 25 2018 12:06

Good post from R. Totale.

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Feb 25 2018 14:29

For those who don't know me, I'm in the International Communist Current. We're against the union form of struggle. You can have fun reading our position on this here.

I include those details solely for background. My aim here is not to make a political argument around the union question, but to share my research on this question of protection in strikes.

This is because I'm in a similar situation to many people here: admin worker, not regrouped by UCU, nor in the pension scheme in dispute. Nor am I in any of the other unions. Regardless, I've been out on strike this week, and have participated in similar previous actions.

Technically, as long as the strike is a protected action i.e. all the right hoops have been jumped through, non-union members have exactly the same protection against dismissal as union members. This is explicitly stated here.

Members of other unions do not have this protection. If members of another union take action, then their action is unofficial and unprotected and you can be dismissed without recourse.

Even if you are in UCU, and you join the action not having been balloted, there is a potential question about whether the ballot itself is valid and the strike could become unprotected.

I've been unable to find a definitive answer to the question of where a non-union member who is not a party to the dispute would stand.

It's important to realise that even if a strike action is protected in law your employer may still dismiss you. Nothing stops them doing this - to get any kind of redress you would then have to take them to a tribunal.

No non-participating union will support you. I doubt even the UCU would support you if weren't party to the dispute and not included in the call to action. So you could quite easily be on your own. Even if you win at tribunal, it's unlikely you'd get your job back - orders for reinstatement are very rare.

Practical Law, part of Thomson Reuters, has an excellent section on strike law, but it's behind a paywall. Ironically, your university may have a subscription and allow you access!

You may find this article useful.

There's no question it's a potentially big risk for people in our position to respect the picket. I am fortunate to have the support of my family, but I'd be lying if I said I'm not nervous about the consequences.

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Feb 25 2018 15:21

Thanks for that - so when you've been in this position before, have there been any consequences? And have you managed to get any of your fellow workers in the same position to do the same thing?
The gov.uk advice is kind of ambiguous:

Quote:
Dismissal for industrial action

You can’t be dismissed for industrial action if:

it’s called as a result of a properly organised ballot
it’s about a trade dispute between workers and their employer (eg about your terms and conditions)
a detailed notice about the industrial action (which is legally required) has been given to the employer at least 7 days before it begins

But then

Quote:
When you may be dismissed

You could be dismissed for taking part in industrial action if:
...
it’s in support of workers taking action against another employer (otherwise known as ‘sympathy’ or ‘secondary’ action)

So I guess it all comes down to whether they define you as part of the dispute or taking secondary action. Also I guess your own contract is kind of relevant, because it's a lot easier to get rid of a temp than it is to get someone who's on a permanent contract and has passed their probation.
There's also this, but it's very long and kind of makes one's eyes glaze over: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/245596/10-922-industrial-action-employee-guide.pdf
The local government lawyer site also looks kind of reassuring, I think:

Quote:
Can employees who are not union members go on strike?

Yes. Protection from dismissal extends to non-union members. Such staff can participate in any strike action but would also lose a day's pay for each day of strike action. Protection does not however extend to employees who are members of other non-participating unions. If employees who are members of unions that do not officially support the industrial action participate in the strike, they will be deemed to be taking unofficial action.

Can union members who will not be affected by the subject matter of the strike action go on strike?

Yes. Protection from dismissal extends to all employees who participate in official industrial action, albeit they will lose a day’s pay for each day of strike action.

But then that's all assuming they play by the rules, and I guess that there's not much to stop them suddenly deciding that they've noticed massive issues with your work being unsatisfactory or something similar the day after the strike and having a go at you for that.

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Feb 25 2018 15:23

doug is right, they aren't allowed to ask you questions about union membership or discriminate against you based on union membership. So as long you don't say that you are in a different union officially in regard to this strike, you should be ok. Or at least no worse off than those striking. But as has been said by quite a few others, employers don't necessarily respect the law, tribunals are har dto win, and winning one is unlikely to get you your job back but could easily get you blacklisted and could take a very long time, during which you are not paid etc.

Do you still have to pay a punitive fee for tribunals or did they get rid of them?

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Feb 25 2018 16:34
jef costello wrote:
Do you still have to pay a punitive fee for tribunals or did they get rid of them?

The government got smacked down in the Supreme Court on that one last summer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40727400 That was probably one of the highpoints of 2017 actually, at least from a UK workers' rights perspective.

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Feb 25 2018 16:35

Tribunal fees are gone (yay!), but like much of labour legislation: the guidance around participating in industrial action in your workplace if you're not in the union/not directly affected by the dispute is vague at best and contradictory at worse. It's no huge surprise that most trade unions choose to take the more conservative understanding of the law - but individual unions and union branches sometimes take a more militant line.

I got brought up on a disciplinary one time - not for refusing to cross and NUT picket line (I was a teaching assistant in UNISON and it was an NUT teacher's strike) - but for participating in a picket line on a dispute I was not party to. For UNISON to help me, I had to acknowledge I'd ignored UNISON's guidance on the NUT strike. It was the only way they'd offer me representation. On a side note, we kicked the crap of management on that disciplinary.

In any case, I think R Totale's advice is key: are there other folks in your workplace also planning on respecting the picket line? While I get there's an important point of principle, we don't need individual martyrs - that doesn't do anything to encourage people to respect each others' strikes in the future. If you can get a few other workmates on board, it goes a long way to protecting yourselves and building up wider confidence for future disputes.

If you can get people together, I'd suggest trying to find some way to act collectively in not showing up to work - all coming to work together and then refusing to cross the line collectively or all meeting up the night before to send off a similar email, etc, etc.

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Feb 26 2018 22:19

In the UK in the past decade or two I haven't heard about anyone being sacked for refusing to cross a picket line, and I'm aware of many cases where people have done exactly this, including agency workers. As others have said, your best defence is strength in numbers, so if you can get other people to refuse to cross with you this is the best option!

Also like people have said, union membership is confidential. Never tell your employer what union you're a member of.

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Mar 3 2018 11:26

Not 100% related to the OP, but since this is the closest thing we have to a general UCU strike thread, I've just spotted that Notes From Below (autonomist/operaist-type academic folks) have started doing a rank-and-file strike bulletin, might be worth printing a few copies for anyone planning to visit this week's pickets: http://notesfrombelow.org/article/university-worker-week-2

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Mar 3 2018 14:17

Over on the U75 thread, there's a poster saying their Unison branch has voted in favour of strike action - has anyone else heard anything about this?

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Mar 4 2018 12:21

3rd issue up now: http://notesfrombelow.org/article/university-worker-week-3

pi
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Mar 4 2018 12:30
Steven. wrote:
Never tell your employer what union you're a member of.

I've never heard this before. Are there reasons beyond the one described by jef costello?

jef costello wrote:
So as long you don't say that you are in a different union officially in regard to this strike
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Mar 4 2018 14:15

As a general rule, I'd think it's usually sensible to try and give your employer as little information as possible, and doubly so when it comes to information that could be used to identify and single out workplace militants. Obviously that's not always possible (it's hard to stay anonymous when you're on a picket line), but I would have thought it's a good rule of thumb, no?

Also, just seen this University of London IWGB blog post, which has more on the question of non-UCU members respecting picket lines:

Quote:
We’re calling on all members to support the strikes, and to be confident that you can refuse to cross the picket line and join the pickets instead. We know some confusing management emails were sent beforehand, but I can assure you that I and many others have returned from five days flyering on the pickets to absolutely no negative reaction.

Obviously if you don't work at UoL, there's no guarantee that conditions there will be reflected in your workplace, but it's good to hear.

ajjohnstone
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Mar 4 2018 19:00

The SPGB comment on the UCU strike
http://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2018/02/why-i-am-striking.html

Quote:
They deserve support and solidarity, even at the cost of 14 days pay, because anything that makes employers think twice about downgrading terms and conditions of their employees is a benefit for all workers, everywhere.
Dannny
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Mar 4 2018 20:04

Flier on the strike oriented to international students from Unis Resist Border Controls, plus Chinese version, see this thread: https://mobile.twitter.com/acupuncturepics/status/970312474460385281

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Mar 4 2018 21:57
pi wrote:
Steven. wrote:
Never tell your employer what union you're a member of.

I've never heard this before. Are there reasons beyond the one described by jef costello?

jef costello wrote:
So as long you don't say that you are in a different union officially in regard to this strike

You have the right to join a strike organised by your union and the employer is not allowed to discriminate based on union membership. So if you are in the union striking, or not in a union then they can't punish you unless they punish all strikers identically. They are also not allowed to ask you if you are in a union that is striking or not. But If you tell them that you are in a union that is not striking then they have that information legitimately and can use it against you. I would simply never tell the bosses what, if any, union I was a member of. That said I missed the strikes at my work because I didn't realise until they day before and it was on my day off. Should have picketed all the same but I am in my first year and I think that counts as a trial period.

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Mar 12 2018 10:22

Bulletin for week 4 out now: http://www.notesfrombelow.org/article/university-worker-week-4

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Mar 12 2018 13:35

Also, from the UW bulletin, 3 demos planned this week:
Cambridge on Tuesday: https://m.facebook.com/events/171768213617431
London on Weds: https://m.facebook.com/events/1447160352079431
Brighton/Sussex/NCAFC national thing on Thurs: https://m.facebook.com/events/1797017697265896/