Rider to Immunize Tribes From Labor Law Advances

Several movements in Congress could remove Indian tribes and their enterprises from review by the National Labor Relations Board. This includes a rider to an appropriations bill, and two bills in the Senate and House of Representatives. Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum (l.) has been attacked for supporting the bill.

A rider to an appropriations bill that would clarify that tribes are not bound by the National Labor Relations Act or subject to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is advancing in Washington D.C.

Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma congressman and a member of the Chickasaw Nation, is advancing the rider. Cole is one of two members of Congress from a tribe.

The Chickasaw Nation recently won an unfair labor practices complaint when the NLRB ruled that it didn’t have jurisdiction in the matter. However, there have been conflicting rulings by previous boards and in other federal courts. Cole’s rider would settle the issue and would, in his words, “rein in the excessive overreach” of the board.

Cole’s rider would prohibit the use of federal funds to enforce the NLRA against a tribe, including tribal enterprises or institutions owned by a tribe, on tribal land.

A bill that would accomplish the same thing is moving forward in the Senate in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The bill is called the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act. An identical bill is also in the House, where hearings have been held with the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions.

According to Rep. David Roe, chairman of the subcommittee, “This is as about as clear an issue as I’ve ever seen. Either you’re sovereign or you’re not.”

Tribes have been lobbying Congress to enact such a bill since 2004 when one of the unfavorable NLRB rulings was issued. At that time pro-union forces helped defeat the bill.

The bill creates an interesting dichotomy, putting Democrats, the minority party in both chambers, on the horns of dilemma since it pits two interests that they normally champion, tribes and unions, against each other.

One Democrat who has supported getting the NLRB out of reservations is Rep. Betty McCollum, co-chairman of the Congressional Native American Caucus, who was recently defended by National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens and National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby in a joint letter, “Representative McCollum has never wavered in her support of the hard working union members in her district, just as she has never wavered in her support of tribal sovereignty,” the letter begins. “NCAI and NIGA have come together to ask the tribal nations of our respective organizations to never waver in their support of Representative McCollum and the many other members who are supporting fairness for tribal governments.”