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Senate Dems block bill exempting tribal casinos from labor law

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 18, 2018) — A bill to deny labor rights to employees of casinos and other enterprises on tribal trust land failed Monday in the U.S. Senate when a package of bills containing the measure fell five votes short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster. Both Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) joined most Democrats in blocking the bill.

The legislation, called the “Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act,” would have denied protections under the National Labor Relations Act to a large number of workers who are employed by tribal-owned and -operated enterprises located on tribal land, including more than 600,000 tribal casino workers, the vast majority of whom are not Native Americans. If, for example, casino workers were fired for trying to organize a union or collectively protesting work conditions, they would have no recourse under federal law had the TLSA passed.

The House passed the measure in January. It is unclear if the Senate will try again.

After Monday’s cloture vote, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka thanked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for opposing the measure.


The New York Times reports: “Proponents of the bill argued that the National Labor Relations Board acted arbitrarily in 2004 when it ruled that employees of tribal enterprises could be covered by federal labor law even if the enterprise was on tribal trust land. For decades before that, the board typically applied federal labor law only to tribal enterprises outside tribal trust land.”

The AFL-CIO sent members of Congress a letter opposing the act that read:

“The AFL-CIO supports the principle of sovereignty for tribal governments but does not believe that employers should use this principle to deny workers their collective bargaining rights and freedom of association. While the AFL-CIO continues to support the concept of tribal sovereignty in truly internal, self-governance matters, it is in no position to repudiate fundamental human rights that belong to every worker in every nation. Workers cannot be left without any legally enforceable right to form unions and bargain collectively in instances where they are working for a tribal enterprise, which is simply a commercial operation competing with non-tribal businesses….

“The AFL-CIO opposes any effort to exempt on an across-the-board basis all tribal enterprises from the NLRA, without undertaking a specific review of all the circumstances — as current NLRB standards provide. Where the enterprise employs mainly Native American employees with mainly Native American customers, and involves self-governance or intramural affairs, leaving the matter to tribal governments may be appropriate. However, where the business employs primarily non-Native American employees and caters to primarily non-Native American customers, there is no basis for depriving employees of their rights and protections under the National Labor Relations Act.”

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