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Former Culinary head and national labor leader D. Taylor steps aside

For parts of three decades, he helped the Las Vegas union grow its membership and expand its presence as a Nevada political force.
Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz

Labor leader D. Taylor, whose four-decade career in union organizing included helping Culinary Workers Union Local 226 become a Nevada political power, stepped down after 12 years as president of UNITE HERE, the local’s 300,000-member parent organization.

UNITE HERE said Taylor’s departure took effect Easter Sunday but didn’t make the announcement until Monday morning. 

“I believe the next generation of leaders should get their shot,” Taylor said.

Taylor, 67, whose given name is Donald but has always gone by D., will continue to serve as chairman of the union’s health and welfare fund and support ongoing efforts to organize the gaming industry. 

He said Monday that the Culinary in Las Vegas, which has 60,000 members, could grow to up to 70,000 or 75,000 members, given the prospects for organizing several nonunion resorts, including The Venetian and Fontainebleau Las Vegas.

“I’m not retiring and I’m not going to stop working,” Taylor said in an interview with The Nevada Independent. “I think I can be helpful with gaming and other locations, based on my relationships here in Nevada.”

UNITE HERE Secretary-Treasurer Gwen Mills is expected to succeed Taylor as president, becoming the organization’s first female president.

“I feel really good about seeing Gwen take over,” Taylor said.

He likened the transition to when he departed the Culinary for the national organization and Geoconda Argüello-Kline became the first woman to lead the Las Vegas organization.

“It's appropriate, and we have leadership now that is more reflective of the membership, which I think is key,” Taylor said. “It used to drive me crazy to hear about somebody's ‘potential.’ Being younger and more diverse is where we need to go and I'm excited because I think I've helped develop that team.”

The timing of his departure comes as the national union gears up for the 2024 election where it is expected to strongly support the re-election of President Joe Biden. In 2020, UNITE HERE mounted its largest-ever labor-led door-to-door canvassing operation that helped elect Biden.

Taylor took over the national union in 2012 after spending parts of three decades helping the Culinary become Nevada’s largest labor organization. It has become a potent political force feted by state and national Democrats. 

“I have a great love for our members,” Taylor said in a 2012 interview before departing for his role with the national organization. He expressed pride that the Culinary had become an "enormously diverse minority-majority local. The diversity of our membership is our strength, not our weakness. It really provides a rich texture for both our union and our community.”

Current Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge said in a statement that Taylor was “a steadfast champion of worker and immigrant rights [and] health care reform” and “spearheaded innovative language at the bargaining table.”

“Generations of both union and non-union [members] have been changed forever because of his sacrifice and unwavering commitment and we are proud to call him brother, friend, and mentor,” Pappageorege added. 

In a statement, Nevada AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Susie Martinez credited Taylor with changing the lives of thousands of Nevadans by championing workers’ rights and advocating for working-class families.

“Las Vegas is a better place to call home because of his years of dedicated service,” she said.

D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, and Geoconda Argüello-Kline, former secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, during a march on Las Vegas Boulevard on June 29, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

UNITE HERE has a membership of more than 300,000 hospitality industry workers in the U.S. and Canada. During Taylor’s tenure, UNITE HERE added more than 140,000 members and he is credited with establishing the organization as the fastest-growing private sector affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

More than half of the new members came from states with right-to-work laws, which guarantee an employee's right to refrain from paying or being a member of a labor union even if their workplace is otherwise unionized. 

Taylor came to Las Vegas as an organizer in 1984 on behalf of the parent organization during the last citywide strike against the hotel-casino industry, logging long hours on the picket lines.

After losing 8,000 members during the 53-day strike, the Culinary had 18,000 members.

Taylor was the Culinary’s secretary-treasurer, the union's highest elected position, between 2002 and 2012. He previously held the title of staff director and was a chief lieutenant to then-secretary-treasurer Jim Arnold, who served from 1987 to 2002. Taylor took over after Arnold stepped down for health reasons.

Taylor, who was raised by a single mother and worked his way through college waiting tables in Washington, D.C., is a 1980 graduate of Georgetown University. He joined the national union as an organizer in the early 1980s.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, he helped the Culinary’s membership grow to more than 55,000 by negotiating contracts with roughly a dozen new Strip resorts, adding thousands of non-gaming hospitality and restaurant workers to the union’s membership. 

His immersion into the gaming market came following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in Mississippi and Louisiana in 2005. Taylor, who will continue in the role of national gaming director for UNITE HERE, helped organize more than two-thirds of the Biloxi, Mississippi, gaming market and 2,500 New Orleans hospitality workers in gaming, hotels and food service businesses.

In the leadup to the 2008 and 2020 presidential races, most of the major Democratic candidates for president visited the union’s headquarters on Commerce Street in the shadow of the STRAT Hotel, Tower and Skypod, to meet with workers. Taylor often helped introduce the candidates.

During the pandemic, when more than 98 percent of UNITE HERE’s membership was out of work, Taylor led the union’s comeback by expanding the union’s reach in the Deep South and other nontraditional union markets.


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