Bill to shield tribal casinos from labor board clears the U.S. House

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 17, 2015 4:57 PM

By Robert Iafolla

(Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Tuesday aimed at blocking the National Labor Relations Board’s jurisdiction over tribal casinos on Indian land.

While the bill attracted bipartisan support in the House, it faces an uncertain path for becoming law.

Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming who chairs the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, hopes the bill will move in the Senate in the coming months if scheduling permits, a Barrasso spokesman said Tuesday. But the White House came out against the legislation in a policy statement on Tuesday without explicitly threatening to veto it.

The bill, which cleared the House by a vote of 249-177, would prevent the NLRB from hearing petitions for union elections or claims of unfair anti-union conduct filed by workers at tribal businesses on Indian land.

The legislation could hinder union organizing in the tribal casino industry, which generated $28.5 billion in gaming revenue in 2014, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission.

The NLRB first asserted jurisdiction over a tribal business on Indian land in 2004, when it ruled that the National Labor Relations Act applied to San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino in Highland, California.

The labor board said it can intervene in a tribe’s labor practices when the tribal business is commercial rather than governmental and both employs and caters to non-Native Americans. Under that test, the board has asserted jurisdiction over tribal businesses in a total of four cases since 2004.

"Tribal leaders have repeatedly spoken out against this overreach, and Congress has listened," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, a Republican, said in a statement after the House vote.

Unions and other opponents say the NLRA should not be treated differently than other federal workplace laws that have been applied to tribal businesses, like the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

(Reporting by Robert Iafolla; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Jonathan Oatis)