Law Article: Saginaw Chippewa Tribe loses decision in NLRB dispute

The Saginaw Chippewa Tribe owns and operates the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Photo from Facebook

Attorneys Richard Duncan, Toni Everton and Thomas Posey discuss a split within the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the application of federal labor law at tribal casinos:
Weighing in on a hotly contested issue, a panel of the Sixth Circuit has found that federal labor law applies to Indian tribes’ casinos, notwithstanding the tribes’ inherent sovereignty. However, the panel only did so because it was bound by an earlier decision from a panel of the same court — showing how closely divided the courts are on this subject. The ruling sets up an opportunity for en banc review at the Sixth Circuit on the specific issue of the applicability of federal labor law to tribal employees, or a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify differing circuit approaches to the general applicability of federal statutes to Indian tribes.

The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan is a federally recognized Indian tribe with more than 3,000 members. In the 1800s, the tribe granted land to the federal government under two treaties. Under an 1864 treaty, the United States agreed to set apart property in Isabella County, Michigan, as a reservation for exclusive use, ownership and occupancy by the tribe. The treaty also gave the tribe the right to exclude non-Indians from living in the territory. The tribe operates the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort on its reservation, on land held in trust for the tribe by the United States. Only about 7 percent of the casino’s 3,000 employees are tribe members. The casino generates approximately $250 million in gross annual revenues, constituting nearly 90 percent of the tribe’s income. Casino income provides the funding to run the tribe’s 37 departments and 159 programs, including health administration, social services, tribal police and fire departments, utilities, a tribal court system and a tribal education system.

The casino’s employees must adhere to the policies set forth in its Associate Handbook. The handbook includes a policy prohibiting solicitation by any employee, including solicitation related to union activities, on casino property and states that any person violating the policy will be subject to discipline up to and including termination. On November 15, 2010, the casino discharged housekeeper Susan Lewis for engaging in union solicitation activities on behalf of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America in violation of the no-solicitation policy.

Get the Story:
Richard Duncan, Toni Everton and Thomas Posey: Sixth Circuit Holds National Labor Relations Act Applicable to Indian Tribe's Casino (JD Supra 7/3)

6th Circuit Decisions:
Soaring Eagle Casino v. NLRB (July 1, 2015)
NLRB v. Little River Band of Ottawa Indians (June 9, 2015)

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