D. Taylor, president of the hospitality workers’ union Unite Here, was in Boston recently for the organization’s convention, held every five years. While he was here, Taylor, 57, participated in a picket line in front of the Hilton DoubleTree Suites on the Charles River and talked to reporter Katie Johnston about the role of unions in today’s economy.
1Taylor got into the hospitality business for the air conditioning. He landed his first restaurant job — as a host at a tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, complete with knee breeches and stockings — after a hot Virginia summer spent working in bridge construction.
“I was making $4.25 an hour, and that was big money. And my friend, he worked at a restaurant as a busser. We started comparing, and I’m like, OK, you’re making about the same amount of money I am with your tips, and you’re in air conditioning. I’d rather do that.”
2Taylor, who lives in Las Vegas, organized the longest hotel strike in the country there, starting in 1991. The picket line operated in front of the now-defunct Frontier hotel and casino 24 hours a day for six years, four months, and 10 days. Not one of the 550 workers on strike, many of them Latino women, crossed the picket line, he said, and in the end, the workers prevailed.
“Let me tell you, in the summer when it’s 115, that sidewalk is hot. Then in the winter, when it’s 1 in the morning, and the rain’s pouring — it’s funny, after the strike was over, for years in the wintertime I used to hear rain and I’d go, ‘Oh thank God we’re not on strike anymore.’ ”
3Taylor, who said he has been arrested close to 100 times while leading strikes, learned a crucial tip about incarceration from a fellow organizer from Miami, a veteran of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba: Act like you don’t care.
“One thing I learned about jail: Never complain, because if you complain you’re going to be in there longer.”
4Taylor, who led the gaming division of Unite Here for eight years, is supportive of the MGM Resorts casino planned for Springfield because the casino operator is one of the biggest employers of unionized hospitality workers in the country. Unite Here plans to try to organize workers at all three of the state’s future casinos.
“Where casino jobs are not union, they’re not very good jobs. They’re typical service-sector jobs: low wage, high turnover.
“Where they’re union jobs, which has been shown in different locales in different states, they tend to be very good jobs. They allow people in the service sector to have a piece of the American dream.”
5Boston is in great need of new hotels, and Taylor is not concerned that the city’s strong union presence, and accompanying higher labor costs, might make developers reluctant to open new properties here.
“Some of the highest room rates in the country are in Boston. They’re going to make plenty of money. The question is: How much do they share? If you just leave it up to companies to share, that usually brings out their worst tendencies, not their best.”
6Taylor oversees one of fastest-growing private sector unions in the country, with 270,000 members in North America and counting as the hospitality industry expands. Overall, however, unions are on the decline. But workers today need unions more than ever, Taylor said; they help raise the standard of living for everyone, even at nonunion companies, which often move to match union benefits in order to discourage their workers from organizing.
“Your alternative to change the situation in this country is what? Elect a politician? Rely on the generosity of a multibillionaire? We are back exactly where the labor movement was in many cases in the era of the robber barons. I think the only solution to the income [inequality] situation in this country is the union movement.
“No one’s ever persuaded me any other way. Because this discussion on minimum wage, that’s great, but is 10 bucks an hour really a living wage? Does that provide health care? Does that give you a pension? Of course not. That allows people to survive. In this country we’re not supposed to survive, we’re supposed to thrive.”
7D., which Taylor has been called since he was a boy, stands for Donald.
“My mother had one Don in the house: I was named after my father, and she said, I’m not having two.”Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.