US Government Studies Tulalip Tribes' Labor Relations Model

This week Assistant Labor Secretary Jane Oates visited with board members and staff of the Tulalip Tribes to learn how the Tribes dealt with labor agreements during the construction of their casino and resort hotel complex in Washington state. Oates offered praise for the way Tulalip handled labor agreements on the reservation and ensured Tribal members have employment opportunities.

“We hear nightmares about how some Tribes are not able to negotiate with labor unions,” Oates said. “The Tulalip Tribes did an amazing job, and we are here to learn from them.”

Oates’ tour included a visit to the Tulalip Tribal Employment Rights Office, which has a mission to protect preferential employment for tribal members and contracting rights on the reservation. The office also works to improve wages, training and career and contracting opportunities.  Unemployment on reservations throughout the nation is a concern in President Barack Obama’s administration, Oates said. “It’s unacceptable that unemployment in Indian Country is five times what it is among non-Natives,” she said.

Tulalip board member Glen Gobin told Oates that myths, stereotypes and misconceptions about the tribal work force were dispelled during construction projects on the reservation. “We know that our Tribal members are our most valuable resource,” Tulalip Chairman Mel Sheldon said.
 

This Week: Tribal Law Conference At Gonzaga University

This Thursday, March 18, 2010 Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane, Washington will be the site for a far-ranging conference on legal issues of importance to Tribal communities and their advocates. Hosted by the Indian Law Section of the Spokane County Bar Association, the conference features nationally-recognized experts in numerous areas of law that are critical to Tribes. The conference itinerary includes:

The Indian Child Welfare Act – Tribal and State Perspectives (Identifying an Indian Child; Tribal staffing of ICW cases; domicile; utilizing Indian Child Welfare experts)

Tribal Court Practice; Inter-Jurisdictional Issues Arising in Tribal Courts (Tribal Court practice overview; abstention, exhaustion, removal; inter-jurisdictional issues)

Labor and Employment Law Issues for Tribes (FMLA; ADA; Pension Protection Act; and Tribal Considerations in drafting Employee Policies and Procedures)

Issues Regarding Multi-Jurisdictional Regulatory Oversight

Ethical Issues Arising in Tribal and State Multi-Jurisdictional Practice of Law

Registration information is available HERE.
 

Tribe Signs Landmark Union Labor Contract For Casino Dealers

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has reached a tentative agreement with the United Auto Workers Union (UAW) for a labor contract and collective bargaining on behalf of 2500 of table-game dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. The agreement is unique both for its scale – Foxwoods is billed as the largest resort casino in the United States – and for the fact that it was negotiated in the context of Tribal law rather than federal labor law.

The agreement has several facets that differ significantly from typical union labor contracts. The Nation’s laws prohibit strikes by workers and lockouts by owners, so the contract does not contain a strike provision. In the event of a labor dispute that cannot be resolved through negotiation, the matter will be submitted to private arbitration for resolution. The contract provides an average 12 percent increase in dealers' wages over two years, changes the distribution of tips for dealers, includes programs to reduce repetitive stress injuries, and creates a 24-table smoke-free gaming pit for workers and customers who prefer a smoke-free environment.

For the UAW, the agreement is being heralded as a major victory in their union organizing efforts. "Working together, we proved casino workers can successfully exercise their right to have a union under tribal law," said UAW Region 9A Director Bob Madore. "Our settlement demonstrates what we have known all along: that tribal sovereignty and employee rights need not be inconsistent. We value the investment and jobs the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe has brought to Connecticut, and we look forward to promoting this exciting resort as a destination of choice for working families and union members across New England."

For the Mashantucket Pequot Nation, the agreement may provide a measure of financial predictability for its casino operations. The casino, by far the Nation’s largest revenue source, is behind in its debt repayments and has been working with creditors to restructure its financing. The agreement with the UAW sets wage and benefit rates for two years, and eliminates the potential for labor unrest or further legal battles with the union or the federal government.
 

Podcast: Legal Issues For Native-Owned Small Businesses

Native Talk Radio has aired an hour-long program regarding legal issues affecting Native-owned small businesses, and the unique factors of conducting business in and around Tribal communities. Host Annie O’Brien interviewed Foster Pepper’s Native American Legal Services Chair Greg Guedel on start-up considerations, contracts, government procurement programs, legal disputes, and a range of other topics pertinent to Native business ventures.

Download the podcast HERE, on Foster Pepper’s iTunes page, or from the Native Talk Radio homepage.
 

3rd Annual Native American Economic Development Conference, 16-18 September In Las Vegas

Foster Pepper PLLC and KeyBank are Co-Sponsors of the huge Native American Economic Development Conference to be held at the Westin in Las Vegas September 16-18, 2009. The far-ranging seminar will cover topics of immense importance to Tribal economies, including:

  • Tribal Leaders Roundtable: The Impact of President Obama’s Administration
  • Economic Development Bonds and the Federal Stimulus Package: Effects on Tribal Financing
  • Tribal Enterprises Facing Bankruptcy
  • CEO Roundtable: Private Enterprise Boards vs. Tribal Governments
  • CFO Roundtable- External Diversification vs. Internal Reinvestment: Weighing Risk Management Issues
  • Economic Development Roundtable: Stimulating Revenue Growth
  • Effective Master Planning
  • Design and Construction Roundtable: Climbing out of a Recession
  • Strategic Marketing in a New Economic Era
  • Using Sports and Entertainment to Maximize Casino Traffic
  • Planning for Retirement in Indian Country

The conference presenters possess unparalleled expertise in Tribal economic development issues, and include:

  • Mellor Willie, Executive Director, National American Indian Housing Council
  • Elaine Fink, Chairperson, Northfork Rancheria of Mono Indians
  • Henry Cagey, Chairman, Lummi Nation
  • Bob Garcia, Chairman, The Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians
  • Robert Martin, Chairman, Morongo Band of Mission Indians
  • Georgia Noble, Chairperson, Sac & Fox National Business Enterprise Board
  • Mel Sheldon, Chairman, Tulalip Tribes of Washington
  • Glenn Hall, CEO, Bishop Paiute Tribe
  • Robert Mele, CFO, Seneca Construction Management Corporation
  • Robert Winter, CEO, Navajo National Gaming Enterprises
  • Chris Kelley, CFO, Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians
  • Eletta Tiam, CFO, Nisqually Tribe
  • Michael Marchand, President, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Economic Development Corporation
  • Virgil Moorhead, Chairman, Big Lagoon Rancheria
  • Morris Reid, Chairman, Picayune Rancheria of Chuckchansi Indians
  • Ivan Posey, Chairman, Shoshone Tribe of the Winder River Reservation
  • Theresa Two Bulls, President, Ogalala Sioux Tribe of The Pine Ridge Reservation
  • Cedric Black Eagle, Chairman, Crow Nation
  • Louis J. Manuel Jr., Chairman, Ak-Chin Indian Community
  • Michael Broderick, Director of Marketing, Lake of the Torches Resort Casino
  • Mary Galbraith, Director of Strategic Marketing, Cherokee National Entertainment
  • Michael L. Bearhart, Director of Gaming, St. Croix Casino & Hotel
  • Scott Eldredge, General Manager, Santa Ana Start Casino

Additional conference information and registration information can be accessed through Pier Conference Group.

 

 

 

 

How Bad Can It Be Before It's Discrimination?

“She thinks she’s Indian…”

She “doesn’t represent the Indian community well…”

She’s “a wanna-be Indian…”

She’s a “big-boobed white woman”

These comments were directed toward a Native American female employee of a health clinic in Oklahoma. Shortly after she filed an EEOC complaint for discrimination, she was fired. While such abusive language may seem as a matter of common sense to be more than sufficient to create a discriminatory environment in the workplace, the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has held that as a matter of law it does not rise to the level of legal discrimination.

In Nettle v. Central Okla. Am. Indian Health Council Inc., the 10th Circuit reviewed a lower court’s dismissal of the woman’s discrimination claims. The lower held that (1) under the “totality of the circumstances,” no reasonable juror could find that the comments created a hostile work environment,(2) the woman did not make a prima facie showing that she had been treated adversely because of her skin color, and (3) there was no causal connection between her filing the EEOC charge and the Clinic's decision to fire her, hence no retaliatory termination.

On appeal, the 10th Circuit panel noted that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act proscribes employment practices that “permeate the workplace with ‘discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment.’ However, they affirmed the lower court’s decision to dismiss the claim, finding that the comments directed at the woman did not rise to the level of actual discrimination.

We can easily understand that it could be annoying and irritating for a person of one racial mix to be mistaken for another, but there is no precedent for regarding a mistaken racial identifier—not employing any epithetical terminology—as opprobrious or abusive.” The Court also stated that none of the comments “strike us as sufficiently severe or opprobrious (considered objectively) that a reasonable jury would regard them “alter[ing] the conditions of the victim's employment and creat[ing] an abusive working environment.”

Senator Inouye Seeks To Exempt Tribes From The NLRA

 

The proposed federal Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year is designed to aid the organization efforts of labor unions. Among other provisions, the current version of EFCA would eliminate secret-ballot elections for union certification and allow a union to be established through a “card check” system similar to gathering signatures for a petition. In conjunction with the 2007 decision in San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino v. NLRB that applied the National Labor Relations Act (the NLRA) to Tribal casinos, the likelihood of union organization activity in Tribal jurisdictions would increase significantly. In response, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has stated his intention to propose an amendment to EFCA that would expressly exclude any federally recognized Tribe or Tribal entity from coverage by the NLRA.

The NLRA prohibits employers from interfering with employees' efforts to organize, and EFCA would stiffen enforcement, requiring employers to pay fines and increased back pay for violating employee rights. EFCA’s most controversial provision would allow a union to be recognized as the sole collective bargaining unit for employees based strictly on a majority of employees have signing forms in favor of the union, rather than through a secret ballot election. EFCA additionally provides for mandatory binding arbitration if the employer and the union cannot reach a collective bargaining agreement. The arbitrator could — without employer consent — set terms and conditions of employment that would be binding on the employer for two years.

As the federal legislation continues to develop, it behooves Tribes to create their own labor and employment policies and procedures to govern conduct within their jurisdiction. Federal intervention in Tribal legal affairs is often based on a Tribe’s lack of specific regulations addressing topics (e.g. labor and employment); conversely, federal agencies are often less likely to assert authority over Tribal affairs when the Tribe at issue has its own well-defined legal policies that render federal involvement unnecessary. For additional information on the creation of Tribal labor and employment policies, contact attorneys Katheryn Bradley or Julie Kebler.
 

 

9th Circuit Holds Tribes Subject To Fair Labor Standards Act - Including Federal Inspections

In its just-released opinion in Solis v.Matheson, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) applies to Tribal businesses, whether located on-Reservation or not, and that federal enforcement agencies can enter upon Tribal lands and search records to determine compliance.

The Solis case involves a claim for payment of overtime wages by an employee of a Native-owned retail operation. The Puyallup Tribe in Washington state has a store known as Baby Zack’s Smoke Shop located on trust land within its Reservation. Baby Zack’s sells tobacco products and sundries to both Tribal members and non-Natives, and regularly employs both Native and non-Native workers. An employee filed a claim for unpaid overtime wages against the owner of Baby Zack’s, and the Federal District Court entered judgment concluding that the FLSA applied to the shop, and that the failure to pay overtime wages violated the FLSA. The judgment enjoined the owners of Baby Zack's from violating the FLSA and ordered payment of $31,339.27 in overtime wages.

On appeal, the 9th Circuit not only affirmed the applicability of the FLSA to on-Reservation Tribal businesses, but went farther by specifically authorizing federal searches on Tribal lands as part of enforcement practices.


We conclude that the overtime requirements of the FLSA apply to the retail business at issue in this case. Because the FLSA applies to the retail business, we conclude that the Secretary had the authority to enter the Indian reservation to audit the books of the business, as she would regularly do with respect to any private business.

Accordingly, because the FLSA overtime provisions apply to the (shop), we conclude that the Secretary was authorized to make entry on to the reservation in order to locate records via her regular procedure in her effort to enforce the statute in question.

Unless the decision of the 9th Circuit is overturned by the US Supreme Court, Tribes and Native Corporations must now comply with the requirements of the FLSA, and assume they are subject to intrusive inspections by federal regulators. It therefore behooves Native entities to craft and adopt employment and labor policies that will serve their business interests while avoiding conflict with federal standards.
 

Yakama Nation Pursues Foreign Guest Worker Program

The Tribal Council of the Yakama Nation has approved the development of a guest-worker program that would require licenses or permits for foreign workers and non-Tribal citizens working on reservation lands.

The Yakama Nation’s territory contains much fertile agricultural land that is famred by a significant force of migrant workers during the growing seasons. The size of this non-Tribal workforce presents significant tracking problems for the Nation, and the presence of undocumented workers on Nation’s 1.2 million-acre reservation presents challenges in determining whether they legally present on both US and the Nation’s territory. The guest worker program is intended to increase accountability and ensure the legality of workers laboring on the Nation’s land.

The Yakama’s guest worker proposals may be the first of its kind in Indian country, but its long-term viability is as yet uncertain. According to the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement department, Native American Tribes are typically not viewed as sovereign nations on issues of immigration law. The authority of the Yakama Nation to enforce U.S. immigration laws or implement its own is presently under review.
 

Mashantucket and UAW Agree to Negotiate Labor Agreement Under Tribal Law

Only days after filing an appeal of the National Labor Relations Board’s ruling ordering it to bargain with the over 2,500 dealers represented by the United Auto Workers, the Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise (Foxwoods Resort Casino) and the UAW have agreed to enter into discussions regarding a labor agreement under Tribal law.

The jurisdictional dispute over whether Tribal laws or the federal National Labor Relations Act of 1935 apply to employees on Tribal land has been waged since last November, when poker dealers at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation’s Foxwoods Resort Casino voted 1,289 – 852 to join the United Auto Workers union. The federal law is administered by the National Labor Relations Board. Mashantucket has supported employees’ right to unionize, but says they must do so under Tribal labor laws.

The dispute at Foxwoods has been watched closely by Tribes and unions across the country, as it will set a precedent for labor relations involving Tribal enterprises. Federal labor laws did not apply on sovereign Tribal land for almost 75 years after passage of the National Labor Relations Act, but in January 2007 a federal court decision upheld the NLRB’s own earlier ruling that the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in California was subject to federal labor laws.

The San Manuel case involved a narrowly-applied definition of a casino as a commercial operation, but did not deal with the wider issue of Tribal sovereignty or Indian casinos as governmental operations that provide revenue for Tribal services – issues that may still be resolved in court if the Mashantuckets and UAW fail to reach agreement in the current talks.