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Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

UNITE HERE president resigning, will nominate local Culinary leader as successor

18 October 2012

LAS VEGAS -- Culinary Local 226 leader D. Taylor, who has been at the forefront of the Strip's labor movement for more than 25 years, will be nominated at the end of November to become the national president of Washington, D.C.-based UNITE HERE.

John Wilhelm, the current UNITE HERE president, announced in an e-mail message Wednesday he is stepping down, effective Nov. 29 at the general executive board meeting in Chicago, and he would nominate Taylor to replace him. The board is expected to vote on Wilhelm's successor that day.

"I don't underestimate the challenges facing UNITE HERE and the broader labor movement, but I am optimistic," Wilhelm said in an Oct. 11 statement. "Our union is blessed with terrific leadership with very strong depth. It is time for a new generation to lead us into the future."

UNITE HERE is the parent organization of the Culinary, which represents 60,000 hotel and restaurant workers on the Strip and downtown. The Culinary is the state's single largest labor union.

Taylor was out of town and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A spokeswoman for UNITE HERE did not return phone calls or an e-mail seeking comment.

Taylor, 55, has been secretary-treasurer - Local 226's highest elected position- since 2002. He has been involved with the Culinary for almost 26 years, having moved to Las Vegas on behalf of the parent organization.

Taylor was working for the union's national offices in Washington, D.C., when he came to Las Vegas in 1986 on a six-month "temporary assignment." He eventually became a chief lieutenant to Culinary secretary-treasurer Jim Arnold. He took over after Arnold stepped down for health reasons.

Taylor, a 1980 graduate of Georgetown University, worked in a variety of positions for the national union starting in 1981.

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

During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Culinary union hall became a must-visit for Democratic candidates before Nevada's caucus.

The union endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama early in the campaign. Afterward, the Culinary had more than 100 people working full-time for three months on the campaign, which pushed Obama to a landslide win in Nevada.

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.

In the past few years, Taylor has led the Culinary's often contentious but unsuccessful efforts to organize workers at properties operated by Station Casinos.

In 2011, during a demonstration in front of Palace Station, Taylor was arrested for blocking an entrance to the casino.

In March, during an appearance at the Culinary union hall by AFL-CIO national President Richard Trumka, Taylor said organizing Station Casinos was a priority for the union. Taylor's expected move to Washington, D.C., is not expected to not change that focus.

Taylor is a UNITE HERE general officer, serving as general vice president and gaming division director for North America.

A statement released by Culinary said the new UNITE HERE president will serve until the 2014 national convention.

According to the union, Taylor will continue with his responsibilities as Culinary secretary-treasurer until new leadership is determined. He is expected to lead contract negotiations at Wynn and Encore, where deals expire in 2013.

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

The transition might have taken place sooner, but Taylor was busy helping the Culinary's affiliate union in Atlantic City negotiate new contracts for employees at several Boardwalk casinos earlier this year.

Also, Taylor was needed to serve as lead negotiator for new contracts between the Culinary and affiliate union Bartenders Local 165 with casinos owned by MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corp. and downtown Las Vegas properties. The economic portion for the contracts expired in June.

Last month, at a union rally kicking off a Culinary effort to help elect Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Las Vegas, to the U.S. Senate, Taylor told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the union reached contract deals for 75 percent of the affected members.

Last Saturday, Culinary workers held a daylong demonstration in downtown Las Vegas to protest a lack of a contract with casinos along Fremont Street. Taylor said workers aren't seeking a wage increase but were looking to preserve their health and welfare benefits.

Wilhelm is stepping down after 43 years with the organization, including the past 15 as national president. Wilhelm played a key role on behalf of the union negotiating contracts with Strip resorts from 1987 to 1998.

In a statement, the union said Wilhelm will remain in several roles with UNITE HERE, including working as a trustee for the union's benefit and health and welfare funds.