On Sept. 9, we witnessed yet another ugly episode of Democrats actively
siding with Big Labor at the expense of tribes. In this case, congressional
Democrats voted - nearly unanimously - to let the National Labor Relations
Board (NLRB) proceed with the implementation of its May 2004 ruling (San
Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino) that would force tribes to accept union
organizing at tribal enterprises located on tribal lands.
The NLRB's ruling is an unprecedented attack on tribal sovereignty and an
affront to longstanding federal Indian policy and practice. It ignores the
Constitution, congressional intent, treaties, case law, and previous NLRB
decisions. And make no mistake - it puts tribal governments at the mercy of
Still, none of that seemed to faze House Democrats, who proved once again
what I have always said: When it's a choice between tribal sovereignty and
the relentless efforts by Big Labor to unionize tribal employees, Democrats
will always side with the unions. Always.
During consideration of the appropriations bill that funds the NLRB, I
offered an amendment that would have negated the Board's decision by
preventing it from using any funds to exercise jurisdiction over any
tribal-owned organization or enterprise. This would have acted as a
temporary stopgap measure until a permanent solution overturning the
Board's ruling and reaffirming the sovereignty of tribal governments could
That amendment was defeated on a vote of 185 - 227, with 187 of 200
Democrats voting against the tribes and their sovereignty. (By contrast,
only 39 of 228 Republicans voted "No.")
Not only are the Democrats wrong on the policy, they are also hypocrites.
At the Democratic National Convention, Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., told tribal
leaders that he would support on-reservation tribal sovereignty against the
jurisdiction of the NLRB. Indeed, he advocated a solution that is identical
to legislation I have introduced, but which he has not deemed to cosponsor.
But by the time of the vote on my amendment, Kennedy had changed his tune.
He took to the floor to question my motives, saying my amendment wasn't "so
much about sovereignty as it is election-year politics." (He also made the
silly claim that it was the "IGRA legislation that provided for
sovereignty," when we all know it is the Constitution that provides for
He wasn't alone. Armed with the AFL-CIO talking points, Democrat after
Democrat explained why tribal sovereignty doesn't matter in this case and
that the solution is to work out a deal between the AFL-CIO and the tribes
that would preserve Big Labor's newfound hold on off-reservation tribal
But what kind of deal could possibly be reached? Now that the NLRB has
ruled firmly in favor of organized labor, tribes are in no position to
negotiate anything. In fact, it is my understanding that when some tribes
sat down to meet with labor, the AFL-CIO representatives said that they
weren't going to negotiate, and the meeting ended shortly thereafter.
But that's not all. There were even "Dear Colleague" letters from prominent
Democrats stating that my amendment was "anti-tribal-sovereignty" even
though the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian
Gaming Association and hundreds of individual tribes supported it. How many
tribes supported the Democrat position? Zero.
Making this even more outrageous is the labor movement's long, sad history
of anti-Indian discrimination. For 100 years, Big Labor ignored the
grinding poverty, joblessness and despair on our nation's reservations.
Unions prevented Indian entry into the movement and stole reservation jobs
under Davis-Bacon. Yet, now that some tribes are finding success with
gaming, the labor movement is looking for a piece of the action by
targeting tribes for forced unionization - and the Democrats are working to
see that they get it, even at the cost of tribal sovereignty.
But as I said on the floor, "sovereignty is nonnegotiable." When the
Republican Chairman of my own committee proposed to tax tribal enterprises
back in 1997, I opposed that assault on tribal sovereignty and won. Going
against my friend and chairman was not easy, but it was the right thing.
Standing up to the NLRB and the Big Labor bosses is also the right thing.
And it is a pity there isn't a Democrat today willing to stand up for the
tribes in their new hour of need.
J.D. Hayworth represents the 5th Congressional District of Arizona in the
U.S. House of Representative and is the cochairman of the Congressional
Native American Caucus.