Opinion: Labor unions hold up tribal sovereignty

"Even labor sympathizers -- and I count myself among them -- should favor approval of the newest compact amendments, despite the absence of the card-check provisions. Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, California is required to negotiate with the tribes in good faith. That obligation is imposed on the state because the tribes are federally recognized governments, and the casinos they operate are government enterprises supporting government functions such as schools, language revitalization efforts and health care. Tribal casinos are not private businesses.

The fact that some tribes in 2004 accepted the card-check requirement does not make it proper for California to insist on similar requirements for other tribes. Each Indian nation is a separate government, and it is not surprising that tribes would have varying views about the importance of their sovereignty in relation to labor organizing and other activities. In addition, three of the five tribes that agreed to the card-check requirement in 2004 were already represented by unions, making the additional demand moot as to them.

Moreover, unions have greater federal protection for their organizing efforts at tribal casinos today than they did in 1999 or 2004. A recent decision by a federal appeals court determined, for the first time, that the National Labor Relations Act applies to workers at tribal casinos. Although the NLRA does not currently guarantee unions the right to organize workers via the card-check method, it does protect against employer interference with the organizing process. Unions have been trying to persuade the new Congress to amend the NLRA to insist that unions be allowed to organize by card checks as well as secret ballots. Such a measure has passed in the House and is pending in the Senate.

Given that the U.S. Constitution gives Congress, not the states, the power to regulate commerce with the Indian tribes, it is preferable to let Congress, not a state compact, determine whether the card-check system should be imposed on tribes.

If California defers to federal standards for union organization at tribal casinos, workers will still have plenty of rights, and tribal sovereignty will have its proper respect."

Get the Story:
Carole Goldberg: Union issue holds up millions from tribes (The Sacramento Bee 5/23)

D.C. Circuit Decision:
San Manuel Band v. National Labor Relations Board (February 9, 2007)

San Manuel Band v NLRB:
Briefs, Decisions and Documents (Native American Rights Fund)

National Labor Relations Board Decisions:
San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino | Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation

Relevant Links:
National Labor Relations Board - http://www.nlrb.gov

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