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.
 

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.
 

 

Federal Court Upholds Native American Voting Rights In South Dakota Lawsuit

On December 16, 2008, a federal appeals affirmed a decision protecting the rights of Native American voters in Martin, South Dakota. Siding with the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Appeals Court for the Eight Circuit ordered local officials to correct violations of the Voting Rights Act  that prevented Native Americans from having an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice.

According to the ACLU Voting Rights Project, this was a tremendous victory for the people of Martin, South Dakota, who, according to attorneys working on the case, have endured a long, hard struggle for equality at the voting booth. Undoubtedly, this ruling will provide Indian voters with the right to have an equal say in choosing their government.

In terms of background, the ACLU brought the lawsuit mid-2002 on behalf of two Native American voters who said that the redistricting plan adopted by the city that year had the purpose and effect of diluting Native American voting strength. Because the Native American population made up approximately 45 percent of the city's population, it would have been unable to elect any candidates of their choice to the city council because the redistricting plan ensured that white voters controlled all three city council wards.

The district court initially ruled in the city's favor in March 2005. The Native American plaintiffs appealed, and on May 5, 2006, the U.S. Appeals Court for the Eighth Circuit reversed the lower court's decision, sending the case back to the district court.

In December 2006, the district court not only ordered a "full and complete remedy" for the plaintiffs, but also affirmed many of the factual claims of voting discrimination that the voters had described in their original lawsuit, including the fact that the city's redistricting plan unlawfully dilutes Native American voting strength. The ruling from December 16th upholds that decision, as well as the adoption of voting system proposed by the plaintiffs.

This decision will undoubtedly provide Native Americans with an equal voice in the selection of city officials. The ruling is also an important reminder that the Voting Rights Act remains a valuable tool to guard against discrimination in the electoral process.

To view the decision, please click here.