Sending Office: Honorable Sander M. Levin
January 9, 2018
On January 10, the House will vote on S. 140, which will include H.R. 986, the
Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act. This bill would strip workers of protections they currently enjoy under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to organize and collectively bargain at
any enterprise owned and operated by an Indian tribe that is located on tribal lands. It does this by excluding such tribal enterprises from the definition of a covered employer under the NLRA.
We strongly support tribal sovereignty, as we agree that Indian tribes possess certain rights as distinct, independent communities. We equally support workers’ rights to freedom of association, the right to a join a union of their choosing, and the right
to collectively bargain for a better life. However, this bill fails to balance these two equities.
While some Indian tribes have enacted their own labor ordinances, many others have not. Many tribal labor ordinances fall far short in assuring workers their right to freedom of association, while others could possibly suffice if the NLRA is available as
a backstop —in case a tribe weakens their labor ordinance or fails to enforce it. Despite the contention that all tribes can be trusted to have fully adequate labor ordinances, gaps in adequacy have been well documented in NLRB decisions, and there is no objective
assessment of the prevalence, content, and adequacy of tribal labor ordinances.
With this uneven landscape in mind, and aware that some 75% of the 600,000 workers employed in tribal casinos are
not tribal members, we wanted to bring to your attention an
advisory opinion from the International Labor Organization regarding an identical bill from last Congress. It states that if this bill were enacted, the U.S. would be in conflict with its obligations to protect fundamental worker rights, including freedom
of association, to which we, as a nation, are bound to respect and promote as a member of the ILO. The opinion states that, if tribal laws do not adequately protect workers’ rights:
[I]t would appear likely that an exclusion of certain workers from the NLRA and its mechanisms would give rise to a failure to ensure to these workers [employed on tribal lands] their fundamental freedom of association rights.
Union agreements have provided many low-wage service workers employed in tribal casinos with improved wages and benefits which has provided them with a foothold to the middle class. By negotiating employer-provided health care, the costs to state and local
government to assist with health care costs have gone down. We should not be enacting legislation that weakens workers’ ability to bargain for a fair share of the wealth that they help to create for tribal enterprises.
As noted by the AFL-CIO, this measure “repudiate[s] fundamental human rights that belong to every worker in every nation.” We should not be undermining workers’ rights, particularly where doing so causes the United States to fall short of international standards.
For these and other reasons, we urge you to vote NO on S. 140.
Sander M. Levin
Member of Congress
Janice D. Schakowsky
Member of Congress
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