Legislation

Tribes still shoring up support for Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act




National Congress of American Indians executive director Jackie Pata speaks at the organization's executive council winter session in Washington, D.C., on February 22, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

Passage of the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act in 2016 will require strong bipartisan support in an extremely politically charged election year, tribal leaders were told on Monday.

H.R.511 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 they should be treated in the same manner.

But while the bill passed the Republican-controlled House by a large margin, it 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.

To overcome similar hurdles in the Senate, the bill needs at least 10 to 12 Democratic supporters, National Congress of American Indians executive director Jackie Pata said as the organization opened its executive council winter session in Washington, D.C., on Monday. So far, only three have committed so more are needed in order to ensure the bill can advance with at least 60 votes, she said.

"In your meetings this week, ask your Senator to support tribal sovereignty and governmental parity by voting yes on H.R.511 and if they can't vote yes, urge them to refrain making any statements during the debate that would undermine tribal sovereignty in the longer term," Pata told tribal leaders.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, is one of the three Democratic supporters, according to Pata. His committee passed S.248, an identical version of H.R.511, last June but it has not come up for consideration on the Senate floor.

The other two supporters, according to Pata, are Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), another committee member, and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico). North Dakota's sole member in the House, a Republican, and New Mexico's three members -- two Democrats and one Republican -- voted for H.R.511 last year.

If the bill does not pass in the 114th Congress, tribes will have to start over in the next session, with a different set of lawmakers and a new president in the Oval Office. That would amount to a major setback because it took a decade and a shift in political winds for tribal labor to get back on the agenda on Capitol Hill.

"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 NCAI. "Sovereignty is about supporting us as tribal governments."

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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