How we built a chapel of 70+ at Macmillan Basingstoke

Ruth tellis croppedThis is a time of great change and uncertainty in the publishing industry. No one knows this better than staff working at Macmillan’s operations in Oxford and Basingstoke, which are in the process of being relocated to London, as the company restructures and rebrands itself as primarily a “service provider” rather than traditional “publisher”.

Here Ruth Tellis, who recently took over as Mother of Chapel at Palgrave Macmillan, describes how staff responded by building a joint chapel of more than 70 members at the Basingstoke site, and what they have achieved so far.

Many of those of you reading this blog will know more about the history of unionism at Macmillan than me but there has been a strong tradition in the past. Chapels existed at Oxford, NPG (where Annette Thomas our CEO was Mother of Chapel), and at Basingstoke, both NUJ and Unite, representing warehouse and distribution staff. Unfortunately complacency set in over the years and the Basingstoke NUJ chapel disbanded.

In November 2011 came the shock announcement that Macmillan planned to close the Oxford office and the publishing functions in Basingstoke and relocate to expanded offices at Kings Cross as part of the Regents place development.  This is to be called the Macmillan London Campus and the move/change was branded as ‘Next Chapter’.

Affected staff were informed in mass meetings that there would be a job for everyone in London, but most staff faced a 1.5- to 2-hour commute to the new offices.

At the time of announcement, with the intervening closure/relocation of the warehouse and distribution functions, just a handful each of Unite and NUJ members were left in Basingstoke including Emily Lawrence and Steve Chilmead.

Emily co-ordinated and arranged an open meeting at a local pub, inviting speakers – Fiona Swarbrick from NUJ and Doug Williamson from the Oxford joint chapel.  The meeting was well attended, and it was agreed that an attempt should be made to set up a union in Basingstoke.

At the first open meeting on the premises, a committee was elected.  We quickly set up a website and began recruitment. The committee was really well supported both by Fiona, and Louisa Bull from Unite, with local training, including how to set up the chapel, recruitment and representing members.

Of particular use for recruitment was physically mapping members on the site identifying gaps in membership and using our members’ networks to reach out.  We held a lot of small departmental meetings (with cake!), presenting the union in these friendship groups.

This recruitment drive has resulted in 70-80 new members. We have regular meetings, and a seat on the existing Macmillan I & C [statutory Information and Consultation] group. The I&C reps do a great job, but the union have been able to provide more systematic feedback to the company’s plans by providing survey data and timely group feed back, as well as precedent and legal advice from the full-time officials.  The Union has sought to ensure that the redundancy and relocation terms are fair and consistent, and have had particular input into the flexible working arrangements and implementation of travel expenses over two years from the move.

Since the formation of the chapel early in 2012, Emily Lawrence has left the company, our replacement MoC Lynda Thompson, is also leaving us soon to have a baby and I am the new MoC.

Macmillan have unfortunately refused to recognise the chapel and with the looming relocation, unstable bargaining unit and following advice from the Union legal reps we have decided not to pursue local recognition.

Our aim now is to work towards a chapel for the new campus in London, working together with members of the Nature Publishing Group chapel and the members of the Oxford Macmillan joint chapel, who are in the process of moving to London. We also plan to form a new Unite chapel for the 100+ non publishing staff who will remain in Basingstoke.

We are looking forward to having the opportunity to represent our members in the future.

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