Local contacts: UCU on the ground in every workplace

11 January 2018

Want to get more involved in your union? Click here to volunteer as a local contact.

UCU is working to increase the number of our members who are doing something active and meaningful for our branches, members who are then potential future reps. The Recruitment, organising and campaigning committee launched this initiative following a report by Professor Waddington on branches and members' perceptions of UCU's organisation which showed that:

  • members - and non-members - have a more positive view of UCU wherever there is a local representative of the union of some form in their most immediate workplace.
  • branches value having someone who is a conduit for information from the local workplaces to the branches and back again, yet 85% of branches reported that new people rarely or never come forward to volunteer for branch work.
  • participation in all forms of union life (attendance at meetings, participation in ballots and elections) is higher whenever there is a representative of some sort in the local workplace.

Yet, as every branch officer knows, many people are uneasy about becoming a full UCU representative. This can be a big problem for branch officers who are often hard-pressed with case-work and negotiations.

That's why ROCC has launched this new campaign to increase the number of members who come forward into some formal role for the union. This is partly to create a pool of people who may then choose to go on and become future reps, but partly also to significantly increase the 'on the ground' visibility of UCU at the lowest level of workplace organization. We are proposing to do this by recruiting new 'local contacts'.

What is a local contact?

In practice, local contacts are already quite widely used in our union. A local contact is someone who:

  • agrees to put up UCU posters and distribute leaflets and newsletters round staff rooms and departmental colleagues
  • agrees to act as a point of contact between the branch and the department: passing information about issues in the department up to the branch and making sure they are taken up; distributing information from the branch to members and non-members.
  • may be prepared to ask non-members to join, either by emailing them, leafleting their offices or possibly door-knocking.

These are activities that:

  • can be done in relatively little time, without requiring the commitment of time and effort of a traditional rep role;
  • can build confidence, enabling the more successful development of future reps;
  • have an inherent organising value - they are key concrete activities that boost participation in the union and raise its profile for recruitment.

Find out more about contacts here:  The role of the contact [52kb]

How will we recruit local contacts?

UCU's campaigns team will contact every member who has expressed an interest in getting more involved in the union and every new member who joins with an email asking them whether they will agree to take on the role of local contact and making it clear what will be expected of them if they do volunteer.

We will then pass the names of these contacts to branches and regional offices at regular intervals.

What should branches and local associations do?

When we send you the names and contact details of potential contacts, we would like you to look at which work area the member is from and wherever it is possible, and especially if there is no existing workplace rep, to contact the member welcoming them as a local contact.

You can copy a model text to use here:
Model letter to send to a new contact [27kb]

In parallel with this, we would also like you to use at least one committee meeting this year to map your departments and workplaces and identify the places with no contact. We would then like you to write to all the members in those workplaces asking for volunteers to become a contact (or a rep).

We can provide you with a model text here:
Model letter for branches to send to members in departments [28kb]


How we will support contacts?

The Campaigns Team will support contacts by enrolling them into a relaunched email network for reps and active members. We will use this to provide reps with the resources of the previous reps emails but also to gently encourage contacts to consider developing and enlarging their role within UCU. Branch officers will be automatically members of this network so will receive these emails in place of the e-news for reps.

Can I approach these people to be reps?

Branches will be the best judges of the potential of the volunteers, but we would ask that this is done sensitively and with respect for the role they have volunteered for.

What if I don't think they are suitable?

If it is at all possible to use these volunteers for the duties they have offered to take on, please do so.

However, in cases where you meet or talk to a contact and you think they are not suitable, take advice from your regional official and discuss the issues in your branch committee.

If it is judged that the volunteer is not suitable for the job, then please write to them thanking them for volunteering and saying that the branch has reviewed its reps and contacts and at this time they will not be needed.

If it is possible to involve them in branch life in some other way, we encourage you to do so.

What if there is already a rep in their workplace?

Talk to the local rep. It may be that the rep will be glad of some help in distributing information or assisting in dividing up some of the organising and recruiting and profile raising work from the work of formal representation. If not, try to think of some way of involving the volunteer in the work of the branch that uses the role they have volunteered for.

Last updated: 18 January 2018