By Don McIntosh
The Columbian, Vancouver’s daily newspaper, is now a union shop. The National Labor Relations Board held an election Oct. 31 for reporters, photographers, copy editors, page designers and editorial assistants — 27 workers in all — and the result was 19-8 in favor of joining the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, a local of The NewsGuild, which is a division of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).
Management at the family-owned paper Columbian didn’t wage the kind of no-holds-barred antiunion campaign like some employers do, but did make it clear they preferred to remain non-union. The anti-union pushback reached its peak with what Columbian photographer and union spokesperson Nathan Howard called, “the Great Sign War of 2019.” “Vote no” signs started going up around the office — but in the wrong departments, like advertising and circulation, which weren’t part of the union vote. When “vote no” signs started appearing in the news room’s shared spaces, they were soon surrounded by pro-union signs. Truce was declared with a company email calling for end to signs in public spaces.
Owners Scott and Jody Campbell also held small-group meetings where they invited workers to voice their concerns.
“We said, ‘No, we’ll talk about it at the bargaining table,’ and they said ‘okay,’” Howard said.
The next step for the new Columbian Guild will be preparing to negotiate a first-ever collective bargaining agreement.
The union vote at The Columbian comes as part of an extraordinary wave of unionization in print and online media. More than 4,000 journalists at more than four dozen national and local media companies have unionized since 2015, and the wave only appears to be picking up speed. The same week as the union vote at The Columbian, journalists at The Daily Progress newspaper in Charlottesville, Virginia voted 12-1 to join the NewsGuild; workers at WHYY in Philadelphia voted 70 to 1 to join SAG-AFTRA; NBC News Digital staffers announced they are forming a union; journalists at the Los Angeles Times ratified the first union contract in the paper’s 137-year history; and journalists at the Miami Herald began a vote they expect to win which will close in mid-November.