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Tony Batt

Congressman: Tribes Should be Exempted from Labor Act

21 July 2006

WASHINGTON, DC -- The National Labor Relations Act should not apply to casinos and other businesses operated by Indians on their land and Congress should exempt tribes from the law, an Arizona congressman told a House subcommittee on Thursday.

Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., introduced a bill last year that would overturn a June 3, 2004, decision by the National Labor Relations Board, which ruled workers at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino near San Bernardino, Calif., are covered by federal labor laws.

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians appealed the ruling, which is under review by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Hayworth, a longstanding opponent of requiring tribes to negotiate labor agreements with unions, said unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., should not impose federal regulations on sovereign tribal governments.

"It is up to Congress to stop this power grab," Hayworth told the House Education and Workforce subcommittee on employer-employee relations.

Hayworth said his bill has "nothing to do with unions and everything to do with (tribal) sovereignty."

Republicans on the subcommittee seemed receptive to Hayworth's legislation, but the ranking Democrat, Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey, was openly skeptical.

The rights of workers must be considered as well as the sovereignty of tribes, Andrews said.

"The powers of the sovereign government usually stop at the constitutional rights of the individual," Andrews said. "And I'm not sure that's the case in this situation."

Andrews also said it would be wise for Congress to wait until there is a final ruling by the courts on the tribe's appeal.

Since being introduced last year, Hayworth's bill has drawn 11 co-sponsors.

This is at least the third time in the past seven years Hayworth has introduced legislation to exempt tribal casinos from federal labor laws. In 1999 and 2001, Hayworth proposed similar measures that died without passing the House Resources Committee.

Joe Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians, told the subcommittee that Indian gaming is a government activity because it raises money for tribal government functions.

"In this way, Indian gaming is much more akin to state lotteries than to commercial gaming," said Garcia, who also supported Hayworth's legislation during testimony in April 2002 before the House Resources Committee.

Phillip Harvey, an associate professor of law and economics at Rutgers University, said the dispute could be resolved if tribes agreed to enforce labor regulations as rigorous or more rigorous than those imposed by the National Labor Relations Board.

Ronald Johnson, assistant secretary treasurer of the Prairie Island Indian Community in Goodhue County, Minn., said tribes understand the importance of protecting their employees and don't need direction from the federal government.