FAQs: What is “work to rule”?

What is a “work to rule” labor action?

If the two bargaining teams do not reach a tentative agreement by midnight on September 5, 2017, all WMU-AAUP faculty will be called on to withdraw immediately from all work outside our contract and letters of appointment, effective at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, September 6.

“Work to rule” means that we will continue to do what we are hired and paid to do – the “rule” is our union contract along with our letters of appointment – but that we would suspend – immediately and indefinitely – the extensive volunteer work that we donate to the institution. We will continue to comply fully with the contract.

A “work to rule” labor action is not a strike. Nor is it a work slowdown or stoppage. It is simply a demonstration that we are fully aware of the extent to which our institution not only benefits from but cannot do without the uncompensated work we and our staff colleagues regularly perform. “Work to rule” is a lawful, peaceful labor action.

What kinds of work is this type of action likely to involve?

All faculty members can list examples of extra work they perform, a lot of it routinely and some for limited periods of time. Since faculty disciplines as well as department and college cultures can vary so widely across WMU, you may be asked or expected to participate in uncompensated overload work activities that colleagues in other departments or colleges have never been asked to do, and vice versa. This makes it difficult to provide examples that will apply to everyone, although the list below is probably general enough to give you an idea of what this kind of work can look like. From there, you can identify a list that applies to you individually along with other examples that may be characteristic of (and possibly unique to) your department and/or college.

Some general examples of the kinds of work many faculty members have been expected to perform (and that most if not all of us do perform) and that are therefore appropriate to suspend under a “work to rule” action include the following:

  • We will not respond to emails, phone calls, text messages or other communications from our chairs, deans, or other administrators outside regular business hours, despite expectations from some that faculty are or should be available and responsive at all hours of every day. For many of us, these communications are excessive, intrusive, and burdensome, and the pressure to respond immediately has become a significant factor in work-related stress.
  • We will not volunteer to serve on committees or otherwise provide professional service to the institution in excess of our contractually agreed-upon workloads.
  • We will not participate in fundraising, marketing, recruiting, strategic planning, or accreditation activities on behalf of the institution, nor in any other administrative initiatives, when these tasks would exceed our full contractually agreed-upon workloads.
  • Any and all work that constitutes overload but is not compensated, even if it is work that would be acceptable as part of a contractual workload, will be suspended under work-to-rule.

How would a “work to rule” action impact our students?

We expect that the impact on students would be minimal. Here’s why:

While much of the uncompensated work of faculty (as well as staff) is performed for the direct benefit of our students, we understand and appreciate that most faculty and staff would never withdraw from work that serves students directly, including under a work-to-rule action.

However, it is disappointing that instead of honoring our dedication to our students, many members of the administration have come to expect and some may even feel entitled to the generous contributions of faculty (and staff) time, energy, and labor, including the extensive and often difficult emotional labor, that go far beyond what we are hired and paid to do but that many of us perform regularly in the course of our service to our students. We recognize that much of this labor results from insufficient support systems and resources to meet the needs of our students and to support the work of faculty and staff and call on the administration to do better at prioritizing these needs.

However, we are also asked or expected to perform many uncompensated tasks for which our withdrawal will have minimal or zero impacts on students, and it is these activities we call on all members of the WMU-AAUP bargaining unit to withdraw from if a tentative agreement is not reached by the deadline.

Is it safe for pre-tenure and term-appointed faculty to participate in a work-to-rule action? How can tenured faculty help to protect those who don’t have tenure?

It is important to emphasize again that “work to rule” is a lawful labor action. It is not a strike, not a work slowdown, and not a work stoppage.

However, we can appreciate the possible apprehension of colleagues who are not protected by tenure. And while we believe that the more faculty who participate in any labor action, the safer all of our colleagues will be, regardless of tenure status, we understand that term-appointed faculty may feel especially vulnerable to nonrenewal as a consequence of their participation. We condemn any kind of retaliation against those who would participate in lawful, peaceful labor actions and wish our colleagues did not feel that they should have to fear for their jobs. The job insecurity experienced by term-appointed faculty (as well as our part-time faculty colleagues) is ultimately as unhealthy for the institution as it is for these individuals.

For those of us who enjoy the protection of tenure, it is critically important that we join together to protect our pre-tenure and term-appointed colleagues. We will need to make sure these colleagues remain free from unreasonable and noncontractual additions to their workloads during our work-to-rule action, should we have to engage in one. We will also need to protect from retaliation those who participate in the action. We remind everyone that the first would be a violation of Article 42 our contract, while the second would be illegal. The WMU-AAUP Chapter will actively pursue all available remedies should any such violations occur against any of our bargaining-unit members.

Finally, if you are tenured, in the event that we do end up having to implement work-to-rule because the two teams do not reach a TA by the deadline, please be prepared to inform your chair or director, dean, and the interim provost on Wednesday, September 6, of what you are doing and why. Please also draw their attention to the importance of not burdening untenured colleagues, staff, or part-time faculty with extra work to try to compensate for our labor action. And please emphasize to them the importance of not risking the appearance of retaliation (or actual retaliation) against untenured colleagues or any other faculty who participate in this or any other lawful labor actions. Note: There is of course no need to be confrontational in these contacts. Our objective is simply to educate and inform.

Got more questions? Call us at 345-0151, drop us an email, or just comment below.

Click here for WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick’s August 31 work-to-rule letter to the faculty. 

One thought on “FAQs: What is “work to rule”?

  1. Thank you for everything you all are doing for me. I sincerely appreciate it.

Comments are closed.