Taylor thrives during career in labor movement

D. Taylor estimates he has been arrested between 75 and 80 times in Las Vegas over the past 28 years.

His first time in police handcuffs came in 1984.

Taylor, who was employed as an organizer for the parent of Culinary Local 226, came to Las Vegas to help workers during the contentious citywide strike against the hotel-casino industry, managing long hours on the picket lines.

Taylor also was detained in police vans during the union’s 1990 strike against Binion’s Horseshoe and the Culinary’s more-than-six-year-long strike against the Frontier, which ended in 1998.

His most recent arrests came during staged civil disobedience organized by the union against Station Casinos.

In total, though, he’s spent only a few hours in jail.

"I guess I have a record," said Taylor, 55. "I’m proud of that record."

After nearly three decades in Las Vegas, Taylor is proudest of the relationships he built within the 60,000-member Culinary Local 226 and throughout the Las Vegas labor movement.

"I have a great love for our members," Taylor said. "The diversity of our membership is our strength, not our weakness. It really provides a rich texture for both our union and our community."

Taylor’s "six-month temporary assignment" in Las Vegas that began in 1986 formally ended last week when he took over as national president of the New York-based UNITE HERE, which represents about 250,000 workers in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry and airport industries in the United States and Canada.

The appointment was announced in October. Taylor, who has served as a UNITE HERE general vice president and gaming division director for North America, replaced longtime union leader John Wilhelm, who retired.

SHUTTLING FORWARD

Taylor, whose given name is Donald but has always gone by D., will maintain his home in Las Vegas and plans to rent a home in Chicago to help reduce his travel time back east to the union’s headquarters in New York City and secondary offices in Washington, D.C.

"What do I see for my future? A lot of time on airplanes," Taylor said recently during an interview at the Culinary union’s Commerce Street offices in the shadow of the Stratosphere.

"We have some enormous challenges and some great opportunities," Taylor said when asked about organized labor in the United States.

"I’m looking forward to working in our many different sectors. I believe there is great opportunity for our membership and workers in general."

Taylor said he hopes to expand UNITE HERE’s presence in the hotel industry and the food service sector. The idea of helping workers in new markets excites Taylor. A 1980 graduate of Georgetown University, he was raised by a single mother and worked his way through college waiting tables in Washington, D.C.

"There is a great opportunity in markets we haven’t gone into," Taylor said.

Although he’s giving up day-to-day leadership of Culinary 226, the largest UNITE HERE affiliate, Taylor won’t be gone long. He will lead citywide contract negotiations next year.

The contracts signed in 2007 for almost every major Strip and downtown hotel-casino operator (other than the nonunion Venetian and Palazzo) expire in 2013. Agreements covering food and hotel workers at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore run through 2015.

"For me, in theory, not much is going to change over the next few months," Taylor said. "This is my home and I’ll still be spending time here. This local will be fine. There are great leaders here, top to bottom."

ARRIVING IN LAS VEGAS

Taylor has been secretary-treasurer of Local 226, the union’s highest elected position, since 2002.

He had the title of staff director for the Culinary and was a chief lieutenant to Culinary secretary-treasurer Jim Arnold, who served from 1987 to 2002. Taylor took over after Arnold stepped down for health reasons.

When Taylor arrived, the Culinary had 18,000 members, having lost some 8,000 members following the 1984 strike. The potential for union decertifications by several hotel-casino operators three years after the strike caused the Culinary’s parent to return some of the 1984 organizers to Las Vegas.

"That’s why I was selected to come back," Taylor said.

The temporary role grew permanent as the Strip boomed.

Over a 15-year period, The Mirage, Excalibur, Treasure Island, Paris Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay, Bellagio, Luxor and other resorts opened. Their hotel and restaurant employees became Culinary members. The MGM Grand opened in 1993 as a nonunion property, but that quickly changed.

As the union’s membership grew, so did its makeup. Taylor said the Culinary has become an "enormously diverse minority-majority local." He estimated the membership includes people from 87 countries.

"We have seen unique opportunities for people who came to our city or our country that they never imagined," Taylor said. "There is a difference in how we look, but we have a commonality in goals."

During his tenure in Las Vegas, Taylor said the Culinary developed a partnership with the gaming industry.

HELPING DISPLACED WORKERS

In the economic crisis after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the union created Helping Hand to assist displaced workers. Taylor said the union revived a form of Helping Hand last month with its affiliate in Atlantic City to help workers in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

In 2009, when the economy tanked, the Culinary voluntarily reopened the contracts with casino operators to make the agreements more manageable. This year, when the economic portions of the contracts were reopened, the union did not propose a wage increase.

"I found that in dealing with the gaming industry, we have a lot more in common than we have differences," Taylor said.

Taylor largely kept labor peace on the Strip during his years as secretary-treasurer, but the union had a heavy influence on local elections, predominantly backing Democrats. The union’s voter registration and turnout operations contributed much to that party’s successes.

He cited the campaigns of Maggie Carlton and Peggy Pierce, who became the first Culinary members elected to the Nevada Legislature.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Culinary union hall became a must-visit place for Democratic candidates before Nevada’s caucus. The union endorsed Barack Obama early.

In 2010, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was opposed by Republican Sharron Angle, the union ran shuttle buses from most of the major casinos throughout Election Day to ensure its members voted.

Taylor said his favorite political win, however, was the union’s first campaign, the ousting of Republican State Sen. Sue Lowden in 1996.

Lowden was criticized because Sahara Gaming Corp., where she was executive vice president, fought organizing efforts at the company’s casinos. She lost her re-election bid to Democrat Valerie Wiener.

Taylor still has a "So Long Sue" hat in his office.

Taylor’s move to the leadership of the Culinary’s parent organization had been rumored in gaming circles since late last year. In the early 1980s, Taylor worked for Wilhelm when the union organized Yale University. He was long considered to be Wilhelm’s handpicked successor.

The timing for the change was right personally, Taylor said, adding that he never aspired to move into the role.

Taylor’s wife, Bobette, will continue her role as the head of public policy for the Culinary Health Fund.

Meanwhile, the couple’s oldest daughter, Chendult, graduated from college and is in the Teach For America program. Their youngest daughter, Gray, is a college freshman.

"The next six months or so, I’ll still be here as chief negotiator," Taylor said. "After that, it will be much harder to leave."

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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