TVO bought out 13 employees too angry to stay after the strike

By Alan S. Hale November 14, 2023

TVO workers on strike this fall.

TVO employees had until Monday to decide whether to take voluntary buyouts, a measure the provincial agency encouraged so strike-related anger does not “fester” in the workplace.

In a statement to Queen’s Park Today, TVO said the buyouts are “what’s best for TVO and how we move forward as an organization after what has been a long and emotional few months.”

The provincial agency says it wants a team “committed to TVO and returning to work” and that a “relatively small group of employees … made it clear they are not aligned with TVO’s culture and direction” during the strike.

“We think it is better to make a clean break and not have things fester while we work to rebuild the culture we all value at TVO,” Ontario’s public broadcaster said in an unattributed statement.

TVO’s statement was shared with the employees who took buyouts, Queen’s Park Today has been told. They were “very hurt” by the wording, especially since their buyout packages contain non-disparagement clauses preventing them from criticizing the broadcaster.

Acting union president Ryan VanBuskirk confirmed the guild asked TVO for the buyout option to be included in its collective agreement for “folks who may not have wanted to come back.”

However, he felt the tone of TVO’s statement was disrespectful towards the former employees, some of whom had been there for decades.

In the end, 13 union members chose to leave TVO, including much of the union executive that organized this fall’s unprecedented 11-week strike.

The buyouts represent about 18 per cent of the TVO union, which had 74 members during the strike.

On Friday, journalist and former union branch president Meredith Martin announced she was leaving the broadcaster, and branch vice-president Cara Stern — a long-time producer on TVO’s flagship news program The Agenda — confirmed Monday she is leaving as well.

“Almost 10 years later, it’s time to say goodbye,” said Stern as she announced her departure on social media. “It feels weird to be unemployed after so long, but I’ll still be working on the Missing Middle Podcast and I’m thrilled to be able to continue that, as I hammer out my plans for what will come next.”

Union treasurer and education worker Dan Dimillo has also taken a buyout, as has producer Sandra Gionas, who was with TVO for 27 years.

The buyouts come after an 11-week negotiating standoff that centred on wage increases. In the end, TVO workers agreed to a 7.7 per cent wage increase over three years as well as retroactive increases for the three years covered by the Bill 124 wage cap — less than what the union was pushing for.

Even though its leadership inside TVO is gone, VanBuskirk said the union is still strong, citing the increased solidarity among employees the strike fostered.

“We now have more people who are really animated to become involved in union issues and just more familiar with their collective agreement, their rights, and dedicated to making TVO a strong, fair place to work,,” he told Queen’s Park Today.

“We have all become so much closer during this strike.”