Isleta Pueblo Politics

By Christopher L. Abeita

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Employee Rights vs. Sovereign Immunity

Tribal Sovereignty Act of 2015

On Wednesday, April 29, 2015, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will conduct a hearing the Tribal Sovereignty Act of 2015 at 2:30 pm. This is a proposed law to amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The amendment would expressly exclude Indian Tribes from complying with the NLRA. 

The NLRA is a federal law that protects the rights of employees to form or join a union for the purpose of collective bargaining. It also protects employees from abusive and unfair labor practices.

It protects employees from retaliation for engaging in “concerted activity” such as employees acting together for their mutual benefit or protection against employer practices. For example, employees making statements that appear to attack the reputation of their employer. Or, employees complaining about employer work policies and procedures.

The NLRA established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is a federal agency responsible for enforcing the provisions of the NLRA. The NLRB has taken the position that Indian tribal casinos must comply with the NLRA. So, the NLRB is attempting to enforce the protections in the law on various tribal casinos throughout the US.

Indian tribal officials are challenging the jurisdiction of the NLRB. They assert that the NLRA does not apply to tribal casinos because of sovereign immunity. Some federal courts have already sided with the NLRB. They have ruled that tribal casinos must comply with the protections contained in the NLRA.

One case is still pending before the 10th Circuit. Experts predict that the 10th Circuit is likely to rule in favor of tribal casinos.  If so, this would create a split in how federal circuit courts are applying the NLRA. This would likely cause the US Supreme Court to take up the issue of whether the NLRA applies to tribal casinos. 

To avoid the possibility of additional adverse court rulings, Indian tribes are pushing the US Congress to enact the Tribal Sovereignty Act of 2015. If the Congress enacts this law, it would guarantee that Indian tribes are not obligated to comply with the NLRA.  This would strip away the NLRB’s authority to protect the rights of tribal casino employees.

Editorial Comment

Sadly, today, numerous tribal governments across the nation  including Isleta are failing to properly protect the rights of Casino employees.

Indeed, the Isleta Resort & Casino has wrongfully terminated employees. It has terminated employees without cause. And, it has deprived employees of any opportunity to grieve their termination.

As a result, our Casino/Tribe has violated the New Mexico Gaming Compact, which obligates our Tribe to ensure Casino employees may grieve disciplinary or punitive actions taken against them by Casino management.

Casino employees are virtually helpless to battle tribal casinos because tribal officials hide behind sovereign immunity to avoid accountability and responsibility.

Tribal self-government does not mean avoiding accountability.  It means ensuring that we have laws that protect the rights of ALL tribal employees. Tribal self-government does not mean cover ups, lies, secret meetings or sticking your head in the sand. 

Unfortunately, our tribal officials are not taking the time to listen to our Casino employees because they are too busy finding ways to get free meals, free hotel rooms and free concert tickets and then hiding behind sovereign immunity, which is a white man’s concept not a Native concept. 

Perhaps, you should voice your opinion to our congressional leaders on whether you support the Tribal Sovereignty Act of 2015.

Click on the name below to contact your senator and representative.

Senator Tom Udall

Senator Martin Heinrich

Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, 1st District

Representative Steve Pearce, 2nd District

Representative Ben Lujan, 3d District


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