Tribal labor bill draws complaints
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House Democrats clashed with tribal leaders on Wednesday over a proposal to prevent labor unions from taking a piece of the $10 billion and growing Indian gaming industry.

At a House Resources Committee hearing held to consider the issue, traditional allies of Indian Country assailed a Republican-crafted bill that would outlaw forced unionism on reservations. They criticized the measure as offering a false choice between tribal sovereignty and the rights of workers.

"This bill is anti-labor, it's anti-worker," charged Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the committee's ranking member and an outspoken tribal advocate. "It's been dressed up to look like something that's pro-tribal sovereignty."

"It's just a bad political ploy," he added, summing up the views of other Democrats.

Tribal leaders, on the other hand, expressed unanimous support in their testimony. They said it should be up to tribes to decide whether unions, which enjoy strong Democratic ties, should be allowed on their lands.

"Congress has recognized that Indian tribes are solely responsible for making the labor policy for Indian lands," said Joe Garcia, a council member at San Juan Pueblo in New Mexico and vice president of the National Congress of American Indians.

Garcia told the committee that his tribe's right to work law was recently upheld by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. That battle was with the National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency, but states , are also moving to infringe on tribal sovereignty by engaging in "bad faith actions," he said.

Agreeing was George Keller, president of the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) and a representative of the Oneida Nation of New York. Under a state law passed last fall, New York tribes would be required to have union provisions in gaming agreements.

"States are changing [the rules] by making it a breach of a compact for an Indian nation to exercise its right to express an opinion," he said. "That's not fair."

The bill under consideration was authored by Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. It would amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in two ways.

First, it would be illegal for states to require tribes to accept unions in gaming compacts. Second, it would void provisions in existing agreements regarding forced unionism.

"The issue here is not whether tribes should unionize their gaming facilities," said Hayworth. "But the issue is, who should make that decision? Should it be up to the sovereign tribal governments or should it be up to the states or the federal government?"

"The U.S. Constitution states that it is the tribes, as sovereign governmental entities, that have the right to make this decision," he added.

Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), the other co-chair of the Native American caucus, said yesterday he opposed the bill. Rep. George Miller (D-Ca.) took great exception with characterizations by Hayworth that tribes "forced to cede their sovereignty" by signing gaming compacts with labor provisions.

"That's the law of the land," shot back Miller when Deron Marquez, chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, said his tribe was backed into an agreement.

Get the Bill:
To amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to protect Indian tribes from coerced labor agreements (H.R.103)

Related Documents:
Written Witness Testimony (4/17)

Relevant Links:
National Labor Relations Board -
National Right to Work Foundation -
NCAI resolution on labor -

Related Stories:
Bush anti-union push opposed (2/7)
Bush bans unions at Justice agencies (1/16)
Pueblo wins sovereignty case (1/14)