The UCU’s five representatives on the Universities Superannuation Scheme’s decision-making committee have repeatedly refused to attend meetings on its future in a bid to block employer-proposed changes that are fiercely opposed by the union.
Without them, the committee cannot be quorate nor rubber-stamp the plans, which include raising member contributions and phasing out final-salary pensions.
The UCU is planning further strike action against the changes in May, following two days of strikes in March.
The changes were originally scheduled to be introduced on 1 April.
Now the USS has threatened legal action against the UCU representatives, four of whom are retired or serving academics (the other is a union officer).
In an email to UCU members, Sally Hunt, the union’s general secretary, calls the legal letters “a serious attempt to bully and intimidate the five UCU members who represent us on the USS joint negotiating committee” [JNC].
She adds: “Lawyers acting on behalf of the [USS] board have written to your representatives, UCU members like yourself, threatening them with High Court action.
“Worse still, USS is now threatening to make your representatives, five individuals, personally liable for costs.”
Ms Hunt urges members to write to their vice-chancellors in protest.
The USS has about 130,000 active members, mainly academics and senior administrators in older universities.
The UCU representatives believe that if they attend the JNC, its independent chair, Sir Andrew Cubie, will use his casting vote to back the employers – as he did last year when two years of talks on reform ended in stalemate.
Ms Hunt calls the no-show policy “an emergency and short-term measure”, saying that the union would return to the JNC “if the independent chair undertakes not to use his casting vote again”.
She adds: “By refusing to make the JNC quorate, your representatives have played a critical role in defending your pensions. It is for this role that they are being targeted for intimidation.”
A USS spokeswoman said: “In light of the UCU’s non-attendance at recent JNC meetings, USS has sought legal advice on how best to resolve this issue. The nature of that advice is confidential.”