Indian Country pushes for action on Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act

The Chickasaw Nation owns and operates the WinStar World Casino and Resort, in Thackerville, Oklahoma. Photo from Facebook

More than 100 tribes, tribal organizations and tribal businesses signed a letter on Wednesday asking the Senate to take action on the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act.

The bill (H.R.511 | S.248) shields tribes and their enterprises -- primarily gaming facilities -- from the National Labor Relations Act. Federal, state and local governments don't fall under the law so tribes argue that Indian Country is entitled to the same treatment by the National Labor Relations Board.

"By amending the NLRA to expressly treat tribal government employers and their enterprises and institutions the same as it treats state, local and federal government employers, H.R. 511 would provide corrective guidance to the NLRB and bring parity to tribal government employers across the nation," the Coalition for Tribal Sovereignty wrote in a letter first posted by POLITICO.

The Republican-controlled House passed H.R.511 by a large margin last November but the bill faces opposition from the White House, labor unions and their Democratic allies. In a sign of the tension, only 24 Democrats voted for it last November.

It looks like the political winds are shifting in Indian Country's favor, though. Tribes have been working to bring at least 10 to 12 Democratic supporters on board in the Senate in order to secure the super-majority required to prevent the bill from being blocked or filibustered. Wednesday's letter indicates that they are confident that they will see success if the bill is brought to the floor.

"Sovereignty is not only about supporting us on issues that are easy," Aaron Payment, the chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan, said at the National Congress of American Indians winter meeting in Washington, D.C., in February, when the issue was discussed. "Sovereignty is about supporting us as tribal governments."

The National Labor Relations Act was first passed in 1935, a year after the Indian Reorganization Act ushered in a new era of self-determination in Indian Country. The law doesn't specifically mention tribes but tribes were essentially excluded from its provisions for 70 years.

The situation changed in 2004 when the National Labor Relations Board said it would start applying the law to tribes on a case-by-case basis. Since then, the board has consistently asserted jurisdiction in Indian Country in all but one instance, involving the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. The tribe was among the signatories of the letter.

From the Indianz.Com Archive:
Tribal labor law rider killed by wide margin in House (June 27, 2005)
NCAI between 'rock and a hard place' on labor rider (September 13, 2004)
Tribal labor amendment fails in House vote (September 13, 2004)
Federal labor board expands jurisdiction over tribes (June 4, 2004)

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