For 29 years, Grant Glickson commuted into the city to get to his job at The New York Times.
Since January, his trip from Long Island into Times Square has remained almost exactly the same, but with one key difference: The office he occupies is a few blocks up from his old employer, and where he once dedicated himself to paginating The Times, he is now focused on getting a new contract for the reporters whose work fills the paper.
Glickson, 51, was elected the 11th president of The NewsGuild of New York, Local 31003 of Communications Workers of America in January by 259 votes.
Victory came on his second attempt. Three years earlier, in 2013, Glickson had challenged the longtime incumbent — the first contested election for Local 31003 in 32 years.
Glickson, who lost by 34 votes, took notice.
“To me, it spoke to the apathy in the union,” he said.
When he ran again in 2016, he made a campaign promise to increase union engagement — and pledged particular focus to The Times, Local 31003’s biggest shop.
His outreach resulted in a greater turnout. This time he won, 831 to 572.
Glickson now heads the largest U.S. chapter of The NewsGuild, the international parent union that covers some 24,000 media employees across the country, including Puerto Rico, and in Canada.
His switch from Times employee to union leader has coincided with a unique period in journalism, and not a good one.
On Thursday, right-wing billionaire Joe Ricketts caused a furor by pulling the plug on popular hyperlocal sites DNAinfo and Gothamist — just a week after their New York journalists voted to join a union.
The decision put 115 employees out of work in Chicago, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
All the DNA and related sites were closed, although only the 27 staffers in the New York office voted Oct. 27 to join Writers Guild of America, East.
Ricketts said poor finances drove his decision, but he had also hinted to workers in the weeks running up to the vote that shutting the company down was an option.
The abrupt end of what many saw as a vital resource for community reporting was just the latest example of an industry in distress.
Thanks to a business model hit by digital disruption and declining revenues, newsrooms have continued to shrink as job responsibilities grow.
Yet the bleak outlook doesn’t demoralize Glickson, who actually sees a glimmer of optimism in the age of so-called fake news.
“We think we can help both the workers and the industry,” Glickson said.
“The NewsGuild is deeply disturbed by Ricketts’ inhumane decision. Journalists, no matter the medium, need to come together and fight for the industry and one another … and now is the time to rally. Now is the time to fight. For the media professionals who are unionized, carry your card with pride. For the unorganized, now is the time to demand a voice in your newsroom,” Glickson said.
The news for the NewsGuild is not all bad. Employees at The Los Angeles Times — owned by tronc, which also owns the Daily News — announced their intention to join the NewsGuild just last month.
In New York, though, Glickson is waging wars on several fronts — at newspapers, magazines, and digital outlets alike — to reengage existing members and cultivate new ones.
As DNAinfo found out, introducing a union — which employers often equate with higher costs — is a dicey proposition in an industry struggling with its bottom line.
But some organizing drives do result in a clear win.
“We had a really bitter organizing struggle at Law 360 not long ago,” Glickson said. “It took a lot of work, but the journalists really stood up and stayed together, and now it’s one of our strongest shops.”
Part of his optimism comes from an unlikely source: The media-bashing comments of President Trump.
“In a sick way, his attacks on journalism and journalists are helping in a lot of places,” Glickson said. “I think people are realizing how valuable good journalism is, and it’s made a lot of readers care more about keeping it alive.”
He pointed to the “Trump effect” as an influencer in a recent skirmish with The New York Times, where Local 31003 represents roughly 1,100 union employees.
Last summer, citing a need to streamline and cut back, the Times proposed layoffs for roughly 50 copy editors.
That prompted Glickson to organize a staff walkout on June 29 — a symbolic gesture that nonetheless generated headlines and a strong showing of support from staff and the newspapers’ readers.
“We felt morally obligated to publicize what was going on and take it to the street. Yes, we were defending our members, but our number one priority is defending journalism in general,” he said.
Local 31003 managed to reduce some of the layoffs — but not all, he said.
“It’s really upsetting still, but we’re proud that we were able to limit the number pushed out,” Glickson said.
Similar battles are playing out at Reuters, a Local 31003 shop. Unlike many news outlets, Reuters is profitable. Yet approximately 400 journalists there have been without a contract for three years — and talks stalled over what Glickson said were fairly basic cost-of-living raises.
Reporters at Reuters have staged walkouts too — and so have Washington Post writers, represented by a different NewsGuild chapter, but bogged down in the same kind of contract fight with its owner, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Glickson, a Long Island native, has a natural affinity for the sometimes bruising work of running a union.
A lifelong Rangers fan, he grew up in Deer Park, Long Island, deep in enemy territory.
Surrounded by rival Islander fans, Glickson refused to hide his Rangers jersey during hockey season.
“Back then we had a tradition, someone threw a pie in your face depending on who won. I was a glutton for punishment,” he said. “I got hit with a lot of pies.”
While putting that fighting spirit into his war against the fake news narrative, Glickson is also investing in beefing up Local 31003’s internal operations — which had fallen a bit behind the times, he said.
“We didn’t have a database of all members when I got here, no easy way to email or text people. The members hardly ever heard from the union, there wasn’t a lot of outreach. All that is changing. We’re here, we’re going to fight for them — they’re going to see that they don’t have to face their workplace challenges alone.”
He’s also working with the NewsGuild to challenge pay parity and lack of diversity in newsrooms across the country — something he championed as well at The Times.
Glickson, who spent decades at the paper as a paginator and freelance sports writer, doesn’t try to hide his affection or appreciation for his former employer — even though he now considers it his mission to hold The Times to its own best standards.
As NewsGuild president, his job is to protect his members, and he did that for one of them earlier this year by taking a buyout from the Times himself.
He didn’t have to do that. A long-standing union president privilege would have let him keep his spot, but “I’m not going back,” he said, “so I thought that if I could save even just one person from getting laid off, why not do it?”