Supreme Court won’t hear Tribe’s case
By Susan Field
Matthew L.M. Fletcher isn’t surprised that the United States Supreme Court has declined to hear a case involving dispute between Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and the National Labor Relations Board.
Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, there was a significant chance of a 4-4 tie, according to Fletcher, a professor of law and director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University.
Saginaw Chippewa tribal officials have battled the NLRB for years over employee efforts to unionize – allowed under federal law but banned by the Tribe, and Tribal officials had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in which judges ruled that casinos in Michigan run by Native tribes can’t stop employees from petitioning others in the workplace to form unions.
Fletcher, who has closely followed the case, said the Tribe will likely start to negotiate with labor organizations and the NLRB going into the future.
He also said it’s possible the Tribe could exercise the treaty right it claims to exclude and have a “showdown” with the NLRB.
However, Fletcher said he is highly doubtful that the price of exercising that treaty right, which might mean shutting down the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort for a time, would be worth the fight.
Supreme Court justices on Monday declined to “wade into the legal battle putting Native American tribal sovereignty against the federal government’s power to regulate labor relations in cases involving casinos on Indian land in Michigan,” according to the news agency Reuters.
Rulings by the appeals court gave the NLRB authority over casinos on Indian land.
Now that the Supreme Court has declined to take up the issue, Reuters reported, the Republican-led Congress stands as the tribes’ best hope of avoiding NLRB jurisdiction.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in November to strip the NLRB’s authority over tribal business on Indian lands, but that has stalled in the Senate, according to Reuters.
That means tribes must abide by the two decisions from the Cincinnati-based federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Reuters reported.
Last year, that court ruled that the NLRB could order the Soaring Eagle to reinstate a housekeeper who was fired for soliciting union support.
That employee, Susan Lewis, is thrilled for her former co-workers.
Lewis, who got work at an Alma manufacturing business shortly after being fired from the casino, was never re-hired and said she would not return to the job now because the work environment would be hostile.
“But if I did, I’d do the same thing all over again,” Lewis said.
Three California Native American associations filed official support for the Tribe in its fight against the NLRB earlier this year.
Tribal public relations officials did not respond to a request for comment.