Lawsuit deal could see $1M-plus for Cineflix workers, first union contract in factual TV industry

2021.09.28

Factual TV workers Otto Chung and Denise O'Connell Factual TV workers Otto Chung and Denise O'Connell give a campaign update at an industry social in Toronto in September 2019. (Photo: Marta Iwanek)

Two of Canada’s top media and entertainment unions are welcoming a proposed settlement of a class action that would see factual TV company Cineflix pay workers at least $1 million and possibly sign a collective agreement that would be a first in the industry.

The agreement, submitted on Monday for court approval, follows three years of negotiations between the company, law firm Cavalluzzo, CWA Canada and IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees).

The lawsuit was filed by Cavalluzzo LLP in 2018 on behalf of hundreds of current and former workers at Cineflix, which produces such TV shows as Property Brothers and Mayday. It came after a five-year Fairness in Factual campaign by CWA Canada to improve working conditions in the industry. IATSE joined the campaign in 2019, with the formation of the Factual Television Joint Council.

The proposed settlement would see $1 million in compensation for all employment standards entitlements (overtime pay, vacation pay, holiday pay) for nearly everyone who worked for Cineflix as employees or so-called independent contractors since October 2016.

Cineflix has until March to decide whether to sign a collective agreement that has already been negotiated or pay an additional lump sum. The collective agreement includes big improvements, including minimum pay scales, overtime pay, vacation pay, holiday pay, meal breaks, travel time, health and safety requirements, and other provisions.

CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon said the deal is a big win for workers and “shows the power of coming together to fight for what’s right.”

“After years of being largely powerless to address issues such as long hours and declining pay rates, workers now know they can fight back and win,” O’Hanlon said. “It’s the first big step in improving an industry that has been operating like the Wild West and treating employees as second class compared to scripted TV.”

IATSE, North America’s largest entertainment union, represents factual / reality workers in the United States and a large majority of workers in scripted TV in Canada.

“Obviously I’m very pleased,” said Anna Bourque, the representative plaintiff in the suit. “As Jane Goodall says, ‘If you don’t have hope that your action is going to make a difference, why bother to do anything?’

“This is no overnight victory – owners and management have always been against workers organizing. So sometimes it takes a lawsuit to raise awareness and get things moving in the right direction.”

Bourque said it has “taken eight years to get to this point, and I can see that light at the end of the tunnel. Doing something makes a difference.”

Cavalluzzo has also filed a class action against Insight Productions seeking damages for alleged employment standards violations. That is still before the courts. Insight Productions is best known for producing Canadian versions of shows such as Amazing Race, Big Brother, and CBC’s Battle of the Blades.

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