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Q&A

Food Fight

The head of the culinary workers in Las Vegas isn’t afraid to mix it up.

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D. Taylor: “There’s a general disdain for Washington.”(Shane Goldmacher)

LAS VEGAS—D. Taylor heads the largest and most potent political organization in Nevada: the 55,000-member Culinary Union Local 226 that supplies workers to Las Vegas casinos. The union was among the first to embrace President Obama four years ago. As the temperature outside soared to 115 degrees, Taylor spoke with National Journal, sipping a Diet Pepsi as he predicted the fight in this battleground state would get “as hot as the weather.” Edited excerpts follow.

NJ Is the biggest drag on President Obama the economy?

 

TAYLOR Yeah, it’s the economy. That’s it. I mean, I don’t know why anyone else is talking about anything else. And people go, “How about housing?” Well, housing is the economy. You only lost your home because you lost your job, right? Or someone in your family lost a job. So yeah, it’s the economy. It’s a very, very big issue.

NJ Is your house underwater?

TAYLOR I bought the house in ’99, so I think my house is worth exactly what I bought it for. When I first moved here, in 1987 from D.C., I thought I was in a Third World country because you could buy a house for $80,000. Well, guess what? You can buy a home right now for $80,000 25 years later. 

 

NJ Vice President Joe Biden’s speech to the National Council of La Raza here focused first on Latino-specific issues: immigration, “self-deportation.”

TAYLOR Those are big issues. That is not to lessen those issues. But the overriding issue is the economy and the direction of the economy. I think [the Obama campaign has] to lay out the choices—whether we go back to the Bush economic model, or we have a model that’s more geared toward the middle class and more fair toward workers. I don’t think anyone is looking to give billionaires more tax cuts. But you have to also give your own vision. You can’t just criticize the other person’s.

NJ What do you hear from your members about a sense of frustration with the Obama administration three and a half years in?

TAYLOR Our members are like a lot of Americans: They’ve been trying to survive. So politics has really not been big on their list. Obviously, things will heat up. But nobody really follows it except the junkies and the reporters. They really don’t. They worry about whether they’ll pay their mortgage as compared to lofty ideas. There’s a general disdain for Washington. 

 

NJ How significant do you see this election as for your members and the union movement overall?

TAYLOR I think, actually, if the Republicans capture the three branches, or two of the three, I think it will be a disaster. Basically, they’ll try to outlaw unions. It will widen the income disparity in this country. We’ll be back to the robber-baron era. That’s where we’ll be. We’ll be back at the turn of the 20th century.

NJ What kind of involvement are you planning to keep that from happening?

TAYLOR It’s a real challenge for us because all our contracts are up. Nothing’s settled. And we have one of the largest private-sector organizing drives going on in the country with Station [Casinos]. It’s a vicious campaign. The Station fight has revealed some of the reasons why labor has problems with Democrats. Democrats haven’t been really supportive of us at all. And that’s workers fighting for basic rights. Sometimes the Democrats wonder why workers don’t rally around them. It’s because they really don’t rally around workers in times of need. But despite all that, obviously we want to see the president get reelected.

NJ A huge portion of your membership is Latino. One of the things people on the left complain about the president—promises not kept—was an immigration overhaul.

TAYLOR Yeah, about 45 percent. We’re the largest Latino organization in Nevada. I think the bigger issue on immigration, even, was the deportations. [Obama’s] had many more deportations than George W. Bush, which I never would have thought in my wildest dreams. The issue about immigration is a legitimate issue. On the flip side, what’s the other side saying? Self-deportation? The Arizona law [as] a model for the country? I mean, you know, if Congressman [Allen] West [of Florida] can say that there are 78 communists that are Democrats, I would contend that there are at least 100 fascists who are Republicans. I really would, if that’s the standard he’s using.

NJ There is a GOP-backed lawsuit to get “none of these candidates” off the ballot as an option for Nevada voters.

TAYLOR That’s clearly because they’re afraid of that being on the ballot. They’re nervous because their candidate [Mitt Romney] is nothing to look at. The guy is building a car elevator in La Jolla [Calif.] on the water. Come on! What’s the guy worth—a quarter of a billion? It’s a lot. He doesn’t connect with people. I’m convinced of that.

NJ But his message is, “I’m going to fix the economy.”

TAYLOR It’s as plastic as he is. He looks a little bit like a dark-haired Ken doll. The guy’s hair is never out of place. It’s like Jimmy Johnson or something. 

This article appears in the July 21, 2012 edition of National Journal Magazine.

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