WGEM Today anchor terminated from job for refusing to get COVID-19 vaccine

Don Dwyer

Don Dwyer Submitted Photo

QUINCY — Don Dwyer, an anchor on the WGEM Today morning show since January 2019, was terminated from his job Thursday afternoon because he refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dwyer was told of his dismissal after a noon meeting with his supervisors at WGEM.

“I didn’t know it was coming. I followed every protocol and regulation,” Dwyer said Friday morning in a telephone interview.

Ben Van Ness, who oversees daily operations as the vice president and general manager for WGEM, confirmed that Dwyer and Robert Turek, a photojournalist and drone pilot for WGEM since March 2017, are no longer employed by Gray Television. 

“They did great work for WGEM over the years, and we wish them both well in the future,” Van Ness said in an email.

The website Broadcasting+Cable reported Aug. 16 that Gray Television, which completed its acquisition of Quincy Media (including WGEM) in August, sent staffers a memo telling them they need to get vaccinated. According to the memo, effective Sept. 15, Gray is requiring “as a condition of employment, that every employee who occupies a ‘manager’ position in our company be ‘fully vaccinated’ against the Coronavirus.”

All full-time and part-time employees, outside contractors, tenants and guests who enter Gray workspaces are required to be “fully vaccinated” as of Oct. 1.

“We got a mandate a couple of months ago,” Dwyer said. “In the back of my mind — and I kept working every day —- I thought I was going to stay. But this week, I just had a gut feeling.”

Dwyer, who has a fiancée and a son, and said he had “multiple” meetings with his supervisors about his vaccination status.

“They would ask, ‘Are you going to get it? Are you going to get it?’ I just said it’s not an option for my family,” he said. “All of us are unvaccinated. We live a healthy lifestyle.”

He said he wasn’t given an option for mandatory testing.

“We got an email that if your exemption goes through that you would have to do mandatory testing,” Dwyer said. “I was all on board with that, but that didn’t happen. It was a slap in the face. At least the nurses (who recently were suspended or terminated at Blessing Hospital and Quincy Medical Group) have that option.

“We didn’t have an option. I believe there should be an option. I just can’t agree to a policy that is contrary to my beliefs. I shouldn’t be judged for that.”

He said he was told Thursday he had 24 hours to get the vaccine so he could keep his job.

“They put me on the spot,” he said. “That’s unfair.”

Turek wrote on his Facebook page that he learned in 2006 he had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerves. After a six-month hospital stay, Turek said his doctor advised him not to get any vaccines.

When Turek learned of Gray’s mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine, he asked his doctor what he should do.

“His words were, ‘If you were my son, I would advise you not to get the covid vaccine,’ Turek wrote.

Turek said he received an email last week from Gray indicating employees who wouldn’t get the vaccine would be tested weekly.

“Wasn’t happy with that, but I would have subjected to it,” he wrote. “Apparently my employer decided to take a change of course and terminate all unvaccinated employees, regardless of medical or religious exemption.”

Dwyer grew up in Hawthorne, N.Y., and earned a degree in broadcast electronic communication from Marquette University. He says he has friends in the television business across the country dealing with similar mandates. He says he’s not upset with his supervisors at WGEM, where he started working as a weekend news anchor in November 2015.

“It isn’t a WGEM thing. It’s a Gray thing,” Dwyer said. “Everyone I work with doesn’t want me to go. I continue to hear from my co-workers, ‘You’re a damn good worker.’ (WGEM is) really facing an extreme worker shortage. I don’t know how they’re going to be able to cover the area like they should.

“The reason I came here was because (WGEM) was run by the Oakleys (who also owned Quincy Media). They would never have allowed this (situation) to get to this point where this type of thing could have happened. We went from a wonderful mom-and-pop organization to a company that’s headquartered in Atlanta, and they don’t have to listen to anybody. 

“In the end, the company didn’t even give us a glimpse of a chance to stay. It was their way or the highway.”

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