Viejas Band loses decision in dispute with labor union at casino


Guests at the Viejas Casino and Resort in Alpine, California. Photo by Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians

The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians violated federal labor law by giving lower bonuses to union members, an administrative law judge ruled on Tuesday in the latest in a string of decisions that tribes say threatens their sovereignty.

The Viejas Casino and Resort in southern California is a "commercial enterprise" whose operation does not impact the tribe's ability to govern itself, Judge Mara-Louise Anzalone of the National Labor Relations Board asserted in the 17-page decision. The majority of its employees and customers are non-Indian and no treaty rights are implicated, she added.

"Finally," she wrote, "there is no evidence in the language or legislative history of the [National Labor Relations] Act to suggest that Congress intended to exclude Native Americans or their commercial enterprises from the Act’s jurisdiction."

The decision affirms a complaint a labor union filed against the casino. Employees who belong to United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Local 135, received only one-half of the bonus given to non-members, which the judge said violates the National Labor Relations Act.

The law, which was first enacted in 1935, a year after the Indian Reorganization Act, does not mention tribes at all. But it does exempt states and local governments and tribes say they should be treated the same as a matter of parity.

To address the situation, tribes are lobbying Congress to pass H.R.511, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act. The bill does exactly what the judge wrote in the decision: it would "exclude Native Americans or their commercial enterprises from the [National Labor Relations] Act’s jurisdiction."

The House passed the bill last November but it hasn't been taken up in the Senate. The White House has raised objections to the measure and labor unions -- which typically support Democrats -- oppose the bill.

The Viejas Band case is 21-CA-166290.

National Labor Relations Board Decision:
Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians d/b/a Viejas Casino & Resort v. United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Local 135, AFL–CIO (October 11, 2016)

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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