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NIGA/NCAI unite to fight Employee Free Choice Act

The National Indian Gaming Association has adopted a resolution opposing the Employee Free Choice Act unless it is amended to acknowledge sovereign tribal nations as governments.

The resolution was passed during NIGA’s annual meeting during the Indian Gaming ’09 Trade Show and Convention held April 12 – 16.

The resolution was introduced to the association’s member tribes April 14, and adopted unanimously the next day after members met in caucuses and discussed the resolution.

The EFCA is pending legislation in Congress and the Senate. The bill’s purpose is “to amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an easier system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices.” The bill was introduced to Congress by U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and has more than 220 co-sponsors.


Gale Courey Toensing Indian Country Today National Indian Gaming Association board members presented a check for $54,560 to the Spirit of Sovereignty Foundation during the Chairman’s Reception at Indian Gaming ’09. The foundation was founded by NIGA to provide scholarships to Indian university students.

To form a union, employees currently gather signatures on cards and can seek a vote to unionize once 30 percent of the employees have signed. The employer then holds a secret ballot election in which all the employees that would form the collective bargaining unit may vote.

The proposed EFCA would change the procedure to require the National Labor Relations Board to certify the union as a bargaining unit without requiring the employer to hold an election once a majority of employees sign cards.

The EFCA battle is a top priority in Indian country. If passed, the EFCA would forward a creeping erosion of tribal sovereignty in the area of labor relations on tribal land. For 75 years after the National Labor Relations Act was created in 1935, tribes were treated as governments in terms of their employees on reservations. That changed in 2007 when a federal circuit court upheld a National Labor Relations Board ruling that a casino owned by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians was subject to federal labor laws.

“Tribes are recognized in the Constitution as governments; tribes should be recognized in the statutes as governments,” NIGA Executive Director Mark Van Norman said. “We’re going to devote a lot of time and energy to securing the treatment of tribes as governments under EFCA and the NLRA.”

During the discussion of the resolution, Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, suggested a strategic alliance with the National Congress of American Indians.

“I’ve always been a big proponent of NIGA and NCAI working together on these matters. It seems to me, when it’s a gaming matter, we should always have the two organizations coordinate to accomplish the objective.”

Out of that suggestion, NIGA changed the title of its resolution to match a resolution passed earlier this year by NCAI: “Supporting Treatment of Indian Tribes as Governments for Purposes of the National Labor Relations Act and Opposing Amendments to the NLRA That Do Not Include Protections for Tribal Sovereignty.”

The resolution has a number of “whereas” clauses, many of which reiterate the theme of tribal sovereignty, including the confirmation of tribal sovereignty in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and the reminder that “Indian tribes are sovereigns that pre-date the United States, with prior and treaty protected rights to self-government and to our Indian lands.”

The resolution calls for an amendment to the NLRA as part of the EFCA to say that the term “employer,” in addition to states and their local subdivisions, also includes “any federally recognized Indian tribe, or subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, or any wholly owned tribal government corporation.”

The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and other tribes have passed similar resolutions opposing the EFCA without the amendment exempting tribal nations. NIGA leaders urged individual tribes to contact their senators and congressional representatives to oppose the EFCA.