Friday, March 23, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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Do not underestimate D. Taylor.
That’s what I came away with after an interview with the secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union Local 226.
The Culinary is in a tough fight, trying to organize workers at Station Casinos.
The company, newly flushed and emboldened after cutting its debt by $4 billion with the help of a bankruptcy court, is hitting back hard with an expensive and scathing ad campaign aimed at union leadership.
The union scored a victory over the company last year when an administrative law judge forwarded charges — of interrogation, surveillance, and the firing and disciplining of workers involved in the union drive — to a three-member panel of the National Labor Relations Board. The company continues to dispute the charges, which it says are merely technical and part of a campaign of “ongoing harassment” by the union.
Since the judge’s ruling, though, the union, which represents more than 50,000 workers on the Strip, has seemed uncharacteristically off its game and off message. Sen. Steven Horsford, presumably a strong Democratic ally, ignored a union admonition that officeholders not take money linked to Station Casinos, as first reported by my colleague Jon Ralston.
Culinary workers at a downtown restaurant reportedly harangued Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh for putting up his business guests at Station-owned Green Valley Ranch, and the incident leaked into the media.
On Thursday, the Culinary again went sideways, scheduling a rally at Red Rock Resort the same night the property was hosting a big fundraiser for Bishop Gorman, the Catholic high school, at which the Engelstad Family Foundation was to be honored.
(Regarding this conflict, I wonder, which better embodies the message of the Gospels: a fundraiser or workers marching outside, demanding their rights?)
To Taylor, however, this is all just noise.
“We have a very different view of time,” said Taylor, the union’s longtime leader.
“If somebody told me we’d have a six-year strike at the Frontier, I would have said, ‘I don’t think so,’” he said, referring to the legendary walkout of the now imploded property.
If the Fertitta brothers, who control Station Casinos, seem dug in, the workers are just as hunkered down, Taylor said.
“Those workers are not going anywhere, and they feel very strong and they’re extremely determined,” he said.
Taylor can seem like a distant, enigmatic public figure. Though savvy in both spheres, he seems outwardly put off by media and politics. Whenever I ask him about some candidate or other, his expression always suggests that politicians always want something but will sell you out.
At a news conference Thursday, he attacked the assembled press corps, with a broad smile, as “lazy.”
Maybe I’m falling for an act, but his singular focus on the union and its members is refreshing in a town where everyone always seems to have an angle.
In the end, Taylor’s effectiveness can be found as plain as day in the contracts his members have secured. Our room attendants make 30 percent more than the national average, and unlike many of their peers, they have excellent health benefits secured by the Culinary contract. Those higher wages are also enjoyed by workers at nonunion hotels such as Station and Las Vegas Sands properties because they have to offer good pay to attract good workers.
Station has a lot of advantages in this fight. But don’t expect Taylor or the union to back down. Ever.