Listen to three of the “Howard Four” here:
“The behavior of the television station under this administration, this is the reason that people would want to start a union,” said Tony Hawkins, a 30-year employee of Howard University’s award-winning television station, WHUT-TV. Hawkins and three other union technicians were fired in July, shortly after they voted down Howard University’s contract offer and authorized a strike.
“I never thought I would be terminated for voting against the contract,” said Harold Burris, a fourteen year employee of WHUT. Burris spoke with TheFightBack at a noontime rally last week outside WHUT as Howard University police guarded the station’s locked doors. “If I was given the chance to do it over again I would vote against the contract because I believe that contract would have destroyed the union,” he said.
Protesting alongside Hawkins and Burris was Olise Nwechukwi. “These are the guys who trained me,” said Nwechukwi. Looking back on his seven years at WHUT the Howard alumnus said, “It’s always been like a family all that time. [But] in recent years, not as much. There’s been a sense of disconnect between management and workers.”
Like Nwechukwi, Burris and Hawkins also said they noticed a disturbing change at the station and they trace it back to the arrival of the station’s general manager, Jefferi Lee, who previously worked at BET and who they described as more corporate oriented.
TheFightBack tried to reach Lee but was told he was out of the country and unavailable for comment. Howard University spokesperson Dr. Kerry-Ann Hamilton forwarded the university’s statement regarding the firings: “Although we are unable to make public comments about individual personnel matters, we can say that Howard University continues to negotiate in good faith with NABET-CWA leadership and is working to conclude in a mutually satisfactory manner.”
But the fired technicians, who have dubbed themselves the “Howard Four,” are not satisfied and they’ve filed charges against the university with the National Labor Relations Board. (In addition to Hawkins, Burris and Nwechukwi, Brian Pratt is the fourth union technician who was fired by Howard University.)
Despite his unceremonious firing, Hawkins still has positive things to say about his and his wife’s alma mater. ”I have a lot of appreciation for Howard, for what it represents, particularly in the black community throughout the years,” he said. But Hawkins is concerned that the university is drifting away from its proud roots. “It’s actually starting to look more like corporate America and not the university that’s supposed to have some compassion for struggles and the least among us,” he said.
UMD Charges Students Hefty Fees for Public Documents Related to Treatment of Campus Workers, Sept. 15, 2011