TRIBAL LABOR SOVEREIGNTY ACT OF 2015

November 17, 2015
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2015, legislation that would strip employees of protections afforded under the National Labor Relations Act at any enterprise owned by an Indian tribe and located on Indian lands.

   At issue are two solemn and deeply-rooted principles: one, the right of Indian tribes to possess as distinct independent political communities retaining their original rights in matters of local self-government; and, two, the rights of workers to organize, bargain collectively, and engage in concerted activities for their mutual aid and protection.

   Rather than attempting to reconcile these two competing principles, H.R. 4511 chooses sovereignty for some over the longstanding rights of others. This bill strips hundreds of thousands of workers of their voice in tribal-owned workplaces such as casinos, hotels, and mines. It should be noted that some 600,000 workers are employed in tribal casinos, but fully 75 percent are not members of tribes.

   This legislation would jettison a carefully drawn balance between tribal sovereignty and workers' rights that was adopted in 2004 by a Republican-led NLRB. That decision, known as the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, restricted the jurisdiction of the NLRB if it touches on the exclusive rights of self-governance in purely intramural matters or aggregated rights guaranteed under treaties.

   Furthermore, the NLRB stated that it would also take into account and accommodate the unique status of Indians in their society and legal culture in deciding NLRB jurisdiction.

   The San Manuel decision has been upheld in every appeals court where it has been challenged, and it is based on legal precepts that have been upheld by appellate courts over 30 years. The courts have also noted that the tribal casinos are commercial enterprises, not government agencies like the Department of Education, serving predominantly non-tribal clients and hiring predominantly non-tribal members to operate.

   By depriving these workers of the right to organize and bargain collectively, this legislation ensures that low-paid service workers in tribal casinos will lose the opportunity to share in the fruits of the wealth that they are creating for the tribe, and depriving them of the opportunity to climb the ladder into the middle class.

   The bill also sets up a double standard. As a member of the International Labor Organization, the United States is obligated, as a government, to respect and promote the rights outlined in the ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, including ``the freedom of association and effective recognition of the right to collectively bargain.''

   The Democrats and Republicans have insisted that our trading partners abide by and enforce these basic labor rights, and Congress has repeatedly ratified these obligations in trade agreements. But today the House will vote on a bill that does just the opposite when it comes to the freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain at tribal enterprises.