tribes over labor
By SEAN HIGGINS • 7/23/15
The House Education and the Workforce Committee marked up legislation Wednesday that would strip the federal government of jurisdiction of labor issues on tribal reservations.
The action was the latest effort by the Republican-led Congress to rein in the National Labor Relations Board, the main federal agency that enforces labor laws.
The committee marked up the Tribal Sovereignty Act, legislation that would amend the National Labor Relations Act to say that the board has no authority over "any enterprise or institution owned and operated by an Indian tribe and located on its Indian lands." The legislation now goes to House floor.
"This bill is based on a simple premise: Tribal leaders should be free to set labor policies they determine are best for their workplaces," said Chairman John Kline, R-Minn.
The act, which passed in 1935, does not specifically address the issue. Last year, the board asserted that it had authority over businesses on Indian reservations. Native American groups have lobbied for the exception, saying that the board's action undermined their legal authority to set their own laws.
Some tribes, such as the Navajos, have allowed unions on their lands. But others have expressed concern that being forced to abide by the NLRA will undermine the profitability of their casinos, the main source of revenue for tribes.
"The Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act will put an end to the board's overreach and give authority over labor relations back to tribal leaders," said Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., chief sponsor of the bill.
A spokeswoman for the board declined to comment, noting it has a policy of not making any statements on congressional legislation.
Labor groups have long wanted to organize the casinos on Indian lands, having had major success securing collective bargaining contracts in Las Vegas and at new casinos in states such as Maryland.
Unions point out that many casino workers on Indian reservations are not tribe members and argue that those workers deserve the protection of federal law.
The legislation must be voted on by the full House before it can move onto the Senate. With both chambers under GOP control, supporters are optimistic.
It may even get administration support. In late 2011, the Interior Department's Indian Affairs agency told the board in a letter that it did not believe the labor law should cover tribes.
"Tribal governments should be given at least the same exception as provided to state governments in the NLRA," wrote Patrice Kunesh, the department's deputy solicitor for Indian affairs.