Journalists at the Vancouver-based newspaper The Columbian have launched an effort to unionize.

Staff notified The Columbian publisher and owner Scott Campbell on Monday of their intent to unionize, after a card vote indicated over 70 percent were in support of a union.

About 30 journalists at The Columbian launched an effort to unionize on Monday Sep. 30, 2019.

About 30 journalists at The Columbian launched an effort to unionize on Monday Sep. 30, 2019.

Courtesy of The Columbian Guild/OPB

Staff also delivered the union’s mission statement to newspaper managers Monday morning. The union told OPB that Campbell expressed disappointment after the announcement and said he would not voluntarily recognize the union. Campbell has not responded to a request for comment.

The Columbian Guild would cover about 30 employees, including reporters, photographers, copy editors, page designers and editorial assistants.

The proposed union would be represented by the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, part of The NewsGuild, which is a sector of the Communications Workers of America.

Columbian reporter Katie Gillespie said staff have been discussing unionization since January. They want to address stagnant wages and pay equity – as well as health and leave benefits.

“Right now, there’s nothing protecting us,” Gillespie said. “And we really want to preserve things that are important to us.”

Gillespie said it’s unfortunate that Campbell told staff he did not plan to voluntarily recognize the union. 

“It’s disappointing,” she said. “But at the end of the day, when we win this, and we will, we’re going to be in it together.”

Pay that reflects the region’s cost of living is a priority, according to the guild’s mission statement. 

“Our journalists are overworked and underpaid,” the statement reads. “We must make choices between doing the work we love and buying homes, starting families and putting down roots in this community.”

Columbian staff photographer Nathan Howard said the company’s low wages and high staff turnover contribute to a culture of newsroom burnout. In the year and a half he’s been on staff, five reporters have quit.

“That’s not good news for journalism and its not good news for this community,” said Howard.

Howard said the union is also pushing for a more diverse newsroom. The current reporting staff includes no people of color.

“If you don’t have minority voices in the newsroom, often those voices in the community aren’t represented,” said Howard, who said the union would push for better recruiting and hiring practices.

If management does not voluntarily recognize the union by Tuesday morning, organizers said they plan to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board and could hold an election a month later.

“We all want The Columbian to succeed and thrive,” said Scott Hewitt, a feature writer with The Columbian for over 20 years. “Greater transparency and fairness about pay and benefits, and a stronger voice for employees will help the newsroom be a great place to serve our community with committed journalism every day.” 

The Columbian was founded in 1890 and has been owned by the Campbell family since 1921.

The NewsGuild-CWA represents more than 20,000 journalists and other communications professionals. The Pacific Northwest chapter was created in 1936 and includes journalists at The Seattle Times, Kitsap Sun, Skagit Valley Herald, Yakima Herald-Republic and more recently the online news site Crosscut and local PBS affiliate KCTS.