Workers’ Rights Stripped at Indian-run Casinos and Other Tribal Enterprises by Anti-Labor Bill
Jul 22, 2015
WASHINGTON — Today the Committee on Education and the Workforce reported H.R. 511, the “Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2015,” legislation that would strip hundreds of thousands of workers employed at Indian-owned tribal enterprises—such as casinos—of their voice in the workplace and the protections under the National Labor Relations Act. Although tribal casinos employ upwards of 600,000 people, approximately 75 percent of the employees are non-Indians.
This legislation would override National Labor Relations Board policy—which has been upheld by numerous courts—that balances the rights of workers with the interests of Indian tribes to protect their intramural governance and treaty rights. By stripping the NLRB of jurisdiction, this legislation creates economic uncertainty for workers where labor agreements are in effect at Indian-owned enterprises, while eviscerating the legal basis for established bargaining relationships and obliterating tribes’ duty to bargain in good faith when contracts expire.
“There is no principled basis for excluding hundreds of thousands of workers from coverage under our nation’s labor laws just because they happen to work on tribal lands,” said Ranking Member Bobby Scott.“Tribes must comply with the requirements of laws of general applicability, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, among other federal workplace laws. This bill singles out the National Labor Relations Act, and promotes actions that would diminish the standard of living for workers employed in tribal enterprises. ”
By depriving workers of the right to organize and bargain collectively, this bill establishes a double standard. As a member of the International Labor Organization, the United States government is obligated to respect and promote four core rights outlined in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, including the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.
Democratic and Republican Administrations have insisted that our trading partners abide by and enforce these basic labor rights, and Congress has repeatedly ratified these obligations in free trade agreements. But today, this Committee voted on a bill that does just the opposite for American workers at tribal enterprises.
Tribal gaming is big business. In 2013, there were 449 tribal casinos in 28 states, which earned more than $28 billion in revenues. An estimated 43 percent of all U.S. gaming is tribally-owned. While gaming jobs have historically paid low wages, unionized gaming jobs have provided a pathway to the middle class for workers, with good wages and benefits.
According to a study conducted by UNITE Here, when both wages and health insurance costs are taken into account, tribal casino workers with a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) earn more than the industry average. For example, in California workers with a CBA earn on average $7,558 more per year. That same study lists more than 10,000 workers as being covered by collective bargaining agreements in that state. It found that nearly half of the children of hotel casino workers without a collective bargaining agreement are eligible for Medical Cal. California would save $490 million in health care costs over 10 years if casino workers were insured at the same rate as those who are members of a union.
At issue in the legislation are two competing principles: the rights that Indian tribes possess as distinct, independent political communities, retaining their original natural rights in matters of local self-government, and the rights of workers to organize, bargain collectively, and exercise their right to freedom of association.
Rather than attempting to reconcile these two important principles, the Majority advanced H.R. 511, which, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will eliminate the federal right of employees to join together to improve working conditions and will suppress wages.
Click here to find letters in opposition to H.R. 511 from the Communications Workers of America, theUnited Steelworkers and the AFL-CIO.