Newsroom employees at The Columbian on Monday announced their intention to form a union to bargain collectively for wages, benefits and working conditions.
The Columbian Guild would represent reporters, photographers, copy editors, page designers and newsroom assistants as part of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild – Local 37082 of The NewsGuild, a sector of the Communications Workers of America.
“Our journalists are overworked and underpaid,” the group said in a mission statement issued Monday. “We must make choices between doing the work we love and buying homes, starting families and putting down roots in this community. This doesn’t serve our company, and it doesn’t serve our readers.”
Nathan Howard, a staff photographer at The Columbian and part of the organizing drive, said that 21 of 28 current nonmanagement newsroom employees, or 75 percent, have signed or are expected to sign cards indicating their support for the unionizing drive.
The unionization effort was initiated by newsroom employees earlier this year, according to Brad Sherman, administrative officer for the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild in Seattle.
Representatives of the group notified Publisher Scott Campbell of their intent on Monday and asked him to voluntarily recognize The Columbian Guild as a bargaining unit. Campbell declined.
Sherman said the next step will likely come Tuesday, with a filing with the National Labor Relations Board requesting that it conduct an election on unionization.
Sherman said an election would follow in about four weeks, unless Campbell opted to recognize The Columbian Guild as a bargaining group in the interim, which would have the same effect as a successful election and be followed by bargaining for a contract.
“We call on The Columbian to meet us at the bargaining table to set policies that promote job security, pay that reflects the cost of living and staffing that allows us to tell the stories of our community,” the group said in its mission statement. “We intend to bargain for equitable wages, greater diversity in the workplace, reasonable leave and health benefits, earned severance, and a fair and consistent grievance policy.”
Campbell, whose family has owned and operated The Columbian since 1921, said he was disappointed in the action and doesn’t see a benefit of unionization to employees.
“One of the things that has enabled The Columbian to outperform its peers is our ability to react quickly and directly,” Campbell said. “We don’t see how inserting an outside influence in our operation will improve our journalism or our employees’ work life.”