By Don McIntosh
Are times that tough at The Columbian? Vancouver, Washington’s daily paper — where workers voted 19 to 8 to unionize last October — laid off three workers March 16. Two of the three were leaders of the union campaign who were serving on the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild bargaining team, including copy editor Nick Johnson and photographer Nathan Howard, the union’s spokesperson. The third layoff was outdoors writer Terry Otto, also a union supporter. What are the odds? Surely newspaper owner Scott Campbell wouldn’t use layoffs to get rid of union supporters, would he?
The two sides had begun meeting to negotiate a first union contract when managers first announced in December they wanted to save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by laying off six union members — including four members of the original union organizing committee. The Columbian didn’t claim there was an economic necessity for the layoffs, a claim that would have required the company to share financials with the union to prove it.
Union bargaining team members responded that they wanted to bargain a contract for all workers first—before negotiating terms of the layoff of some of them. Federal labor law says the status quo is supposed to prevail while workers are negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.
On March 16, The Columbian went ahead with three of the proposed layoffs without any union agreement.
Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild filed an unfair labor practice charge the same day with the National Labor Relations Board. In it, the union alleges that The Columbian broke federal labor law by bargaining in bad faith, making unilateral changes without union agreement, and unlawfully discharging workers.
[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously identified Terry Otto as a member of the union bargaining committee.]