The newsroom staff of The Columbian—the daily newspaper for Vancouver, Washington and surrounding Clark County—is unionizing. The union, named The Columbian Guild, announced its creation Monday morning:
Some news: The journalists of The Columbian are unionizing. An overwhelming number of reporters, editors and designers are coming together to demand good jobs for good journalism here in Clark County. (1/4) pic.twitter.com/c5grRq0EXB
— The Columbian Guild (@ColumbianGuild) September 30, 2019
Katie Gillespie, an education reporter at The Columbian, told the Mercury that unionizing has been in the works since January. The 21-person union includes reporters, editors, and designers. It has not yet received official response from management, but Gillespie said publisher Scott Campbell has told union members that he does not plan to voluntarily recognize the union.
In the five years she’s worked at The Columbian, Gillespie has seen a round of layoffs, high staff turnover, and continually low wages that force her colleagues to forgo basic needs like getting a car air conditioner repaired.
“We have a staff right now that is young, that is dedicated as all hell,” she said. “And we continue to hear that it’s a bad year for the company, that there’s no money for raises, that there are no resources for whatever it may be. And we’re sick of hearing it.”
A union statement sent to media cited the need for “equitable wages, greater diversity in the workplace, reasonable leave and health benefits, earned severance, and a fair and consistent grievance policy” as reasons for unionizing. (The new union was first reported on by OPB.)
At the same time, Gillespie said the union also hopes to “preserve the things here that we do appreciate,” like a dedicated copy desk—a rarity for newsrooms in 2019.
The Columbian has a long history in Vancouver. It was founded in 1890, and has been owned by the Campbell family under the name The Columbian Publishing Co. since 1921. (The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010.)
But as the community The Columbian serves has grown and changed over the years, Gillespie said its newsroom isn’t always equipped to cover it. There are no reporters of color on the news staff—a problem when it comes to covering the “increasing Latinx community we have here in Clark County, and the Slavic and Russian community.”
“We are not able to cover our diverse community with the care and the sensitivity that we would if we had a staff that reflects that community,” she said.
Gillespie said that could be fixed by advertising job openings more widely—something the union could push for during future bargaining sessions.
The Columbian Guild is the first news union to form in Clark County, but it isn't the first news union to form in Washington in the last year. The staff of Crosscut, a Seattle news website, unionized this summer, and The Columbian Guild is part of the same Pacific Northwest news chapter of the the Communications Workers of America's NewsGuild union as Crosscut.
Gillespie said she and her colleagues were “disappointed, but not surprised” by the unwelcoming initial response they received from their publisher. But they aren’t too worried about it.
“We’re going to win this fight,” she said. “We’re ready for it.”
Editor's Note: This story previously stated that The Seattle Times' newsroom unionized this year. That is incorrect; the Times' newsroom has been unionized for decades. The Mercury regrets this error.