Taylor Can Draw From Labor Leader Marvin Miller’s Life

Marvin Miller died and D. Taylor is moving up to run the Culinary Union’s national, Unite Here. The two men have something in common.

Miller took over the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966. He had been an economist who negotiated for the steelworkers union. Thus, he went from an old-fashioned, lunch-bucket-style labor group to one whose employees played a game. It seemed the only thing the two groups had in common was that both consisted of men who could be expected to spit a lot. But a union is a union is a union, and Miller brought the players together and held them together during his 16 years in charge, and his successors inherited his approach and his counsel.

The results have been staggering. The average annual major league salary has risen from $19,000 in 1966 to about $3 million today. Are athletes overpaid? That’s hardly the point. The Dodgers apparently are about to sign a $6 billion television contract with Fox Sports. That isn’t because fans want to watch owners negotiate.

As a New Yorker profile of Miller said, his “goal was to get his ballplayers to think like steelworkers—to persuade members of the professional class to learn from members of the working class.” Miller grasped that industrial society was on the way out and service industry had become dominant.

Which brings us to Taylor, who graduated from Georgetown University, but worked his way through as a waiter. He came to Las Vegas in 1984. At that point, the Culinary Union Local 226 had been through a wringer that was partly of its own making, nationally and locally. The national supposedly had deep connections to the Chicago mob.

The local was colorful enough in its own right. For two decades, Al Bramlet had run the union and made it hated, feared and important, but he also appears to have had the habit of hiring the occasional bomber to blow up restaurants whose owners wouldn’t unionize. Tom and Gramby Hanley killed him for not paying them for a failed bombing. Ben Schmoutey took over and wound up facing fraud charges and complaints about how easily he gave in to the hotels. Strikes also seemed to have become a fact of life. Major actions in 1976 and 1984 affected business and divided the community.

Under new leaders, but most prominently under Taylor, the Culinary has changed. It has reached out to new immigrants, especially Hispanics. It has concentrated on training to assure good service at the hotel-casinos.

It also has worked with the casinos rather than against them, even helping them in Carson City with the legislature (including an unfortunate case when Taylor and the Culinary attacked lawmakers who wanted to raise taxes on gaming instead of supporting the more broadly based business taxes that the late Gov. Kenny Guinn advocated in 2003). As Taylor grasped, working together, everybody could prosper.

That’s what Miller sought in major league baseball. That ultimately happened, though not in his time with the players union. Apparently, the owners figured out after canceling the 1994 World Series and nearly destroying support for the game that labor peace could be profitable. Most Las Vegas resort operators have agreed, not necessarily because they love the Culinary, but because they know they make more money in that way.

So, now Taylor is headed to the national union, where he wants to work with ethnic minorities and with employers to rebuild what seems to be a declining national labor movement. He probably will remind all of them that his ground troops have been vital to the Democratic get-out-the-vote effort that has proved so successful in Nevada. And he may just remember that Marvin Miller took a group of people who presumably couldn’t be unionized and turned them into a juggernaut—and that in Las Vegas, the Culinary had similar success. Now, if only the Culinary had enough people who could hit a curveball.