Jeff Tennant, UWOFA chief negotiator, receives OCUFA Service Award

Jeff Tennant, UWOFA’s chief negotiator for the faculty bargaining unit and an active union member for more than a decade, is one of five recipients of this year’s OCUFA Service Award.

Tennant is joined by fellow recipients Herb Kunze of the University of Guelph Faculty Association; Robert Hickey and Paul Young of the Queen’s University Faculty Association; and Cynthia Messenger of the University of Toronto Faculty Association. The award was established to honour those who have done exceptional work on behalf of the Ontario Confederation of Faculty Associations (OCUFA) and faculty across Ontario.

"When I was called upon in 2014 to take on a leading role in the negotiating process for UWOFA, I came to realize how much the 'collective' in collective bargaining extends to all aspects of this work. I also came to understand that it isn't rocket science if you really treat it as a collective effort,” said Tennant, an associate professor in the Department of French Studies. “These realizations have been reinforced for me through three rounds of bargaining that have foregrounded advocacy for increased job security for precariously employed contract faculty, and for the full recognition of librarians and archivists as the academic professionals that they are. OCUFA is a key player in that collective effort, bringing associations together to form a larger collective at the provincial level. This OCUFA Service Award is a great honour, and I share that honour with the wonderful colleagues and staff in UWOFA with whom I have had the privilege to work.”

According to an OCUFA news release, Tennant has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to building a stronger academic labour movement through his contributions to OCUFA. As vice-chair and then chair of OCUFA’s Collective Bargaining Committee between 2015 and 2020, he provided a compelling vision for faculty association bargaining that ensures all members are engaged and have a voice at the bargaining table. Tennant was also an integral member of the OCUFA Working Group on Student Questionnaires on Courses and Teaching, which published a landmark report on the misuse of student questionnaire results and their role in enabling harassment of faculty through anonymous comments.

Tennant’s extraordinary service to OCUFA is mirrored by his extraordinary service to UWOFA. At Western, a key gain realized through our 2018 round of faculty collective bargaining was achieving official recognition that student questionnaires on teaching are biased and must not be used to assess teaching quality, particularly in the context of hiring, merit pay, or promotion and tenure.

“Jeff’s steady leadership, compassion and vision have helped him to improve the working conditions of faculty members not just at Western, but across Ontario,” said UWOFA president Beth MacDougall-Shackleton. “Anyone who knows Jeff can confirm that he is steadfastly committed to the principle that strong labour unions are essential to a healthy democratic society, and to advancing social justice within and beyond the workplace.”

He was elected to UWOFA’s three-year presidential sequence in 2012 and served as president in 2013-14. During that term, the chief negotiator for the approaching round of faculty negotiations stepped down. Incredibly, Tennant took on the role of chief negotiator. After leading a strong and successful faculty negotiating team in 2014, he again served as chief negotiator in 2015 (for the librarians and archivists bargaining unit) and 2018 (for faculty). All of these negotiations made important gains.

Beyond his contributions to collective bargaining, Tennant’s service to UWOFA also includes six years of co-chairing Joint Committee (a critical task that oversees the implementation and administration of the Collective Agreement), three terms as Speaker, a return engagement as Past President, and many terms as departmental representative. He has also been a strong leader negotiating with the employer Letters of Understanding that have resulted in fairer working conditions for faculty members, librarians and archivists during the pandemic.