Firing of unionists sparks protest at public TV station

WASHINGTON – Proving that managers at public TV stations can act just like their private-sector counterparts, a mass firing at WHUT, the station at Washington’s Howard University, sparked a mass protest at the school’s opening convocation.

The Sept. 28 demonstration backed the “Howard 4,” four workers who stood up for their colleagues and their union, NABET, a Communications Workers sector.

As attendees arrived – including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice – demonstrators walked an informational picket line for several hours, bellowing, ‘Union busting is disgusting!’ and ‘Howard University – We expect better!’ while leafleting passersby, the Metro D.C. Central Labor Council reported.

“When it comes down to business, these people are cold,” said fired worker Olise Nwachukwu, a NABET-CWA 31 member, referring to the public broadcast station’s new manager, Jefferi Lee. “That’s why you need union representation: To protect our rights and ensure we are treated with respect and dignity,” added Nwachukwu.

NABET-CWA’s Carrie Biggs-Adams told the CLC that Lee summarily fired four of WHUT’s six full-time workers, who together have worked more than 58 years at WHUT Channel 32, after their contract expired on June 30.

“The letters of discharge say the workers violated policies and procedures,” Biggs-Adams told the CLC, “but provided no dates, no specifics and no details.

“This is union busting at its worst, and we need the public’s help to expose the unconscionable conduct of the station manager.”

Besides the firings, the key issue is station manager Lee’s demand for virtually unlimited subcontracting of work. Lee’s last contract offer, with that demand, was rejected June 26, a week before the firings.

“Unfortunately nothing has moved the station off their insistence on subcontracting expansion, and restoring three lower paid classifications to the contract with no progression or credit for prior experience. They say: ‘Let Market Forces take care of wages!'” NABET-CWA Local 31 said in a statement.

The station is run by Howard University, the nation’s oldest, and arguably its most-prestigious, historically black university. That status led Nwachukwu to say “public actions like this are very embarrassing to the station and the university, which has historically prided itself on promoting the principles of justice and equality.”



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.