Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act- Another Attempt to Weaken Labor

The “Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act”: Another Attempt to Weaken Labor, Harm Workers’ Rights, and Gut Workplace Discrimination Protections

Via Communication Workers of America

Despite Trump’s campaign promises to stick up for America’s forgotten workers, we have a year’s worth of evidence that the Trump Administration/Republican policy agenda is doing the bidding of corporate America at the expense of working America. The latest example is the under-the-radar effort by the Trump Administration and their allies in Congress to advance the misnamed “Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act.”


It’s a legislative attempt by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its business allies to end National Labor Relations Act protections for workers at tribal enterprises like casinos and hotels. The legislation, which would completely eliminate collective bargaining rights for more than 600,000 people, should be opposed as an effort to strip workers’ rights and weaken the power of the labor movement, while opening the door to more workplace discrimination. The U.S. Senate may take up the bill as soon as the next few weeks.


  • Background: While existing laws exempt workers at tribal enterprises who perform governmental functions from National Labor Relation Act protections (most importantly rights to unionize and collective bargaining), commercial enterprise workers, like those at tribal casinos, are protected by the NLRA. The Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act would take away all federal guarantees protecting workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively at tribal enterprises. If put into practice, union membership by casino employees could be made illegal—and most workers would have no right to challenge those laws.


  • Stripping Workers’ Rights: The Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act could eliminate the right to organize and bargain collectively for more than 600,000 workers across the country. Individual tribes could make union membership by casino employees illegal and workers would have no way to challenge these laws. The overwhelming majority of tribal casino workers are not tribal members, and without membership they would be unable to have input on tribal laws, vote in tribal elections, or work to elect more worker-friendly elected officials.


  • Furthering Workplace Discrimination: The legislation also could expose tribal casino employees to workplace discrimination. Since tribal enterprises have historically been exempt from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which provides workers with protections from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, workers at tribal enterprises rely on strong protections embedded in collective bargaining contracts to prevent and guard against employment discrimination. Passing the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act would rob these workers of their last line of defense against workplace discrimination and could expose women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community to discrimination without available recourse.


  • Will Democrats Go Along with Another Self-Defeating Effort to Weaken the Labor Movement? The Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act fits neatly into the GOP’s political and ideological assault on the labor movement – alongside “right to work” laws and the Janus case before the Supreme Court. The conservative assault on labor is having a demonstrable harm on Democrats and progressives (see this article from The Nation for a detailed look at the political effects of the ongoing attack on labor). Tens of thousands of union members could lose that membership and related protections if this bill passed and a tribe decides to make unions illegal. This is the worst possible time for Democrats to vote to further undermine unions, as the Supreme Court’s expected decision to undermine worker protections in the Janus case will likely have significant downstream political and legislative effects.


Concluding Thoughts:

Native American tribes have been badly mistreated by the U.S. government for centuries. Many tribal lands have too little economic development and few opportunities. But taking away workers’ basic rights won’t fix those problems. Instead, it would simply take away the most powerful tool of increasing wages and decreasing income inequality and workers’ earning power. This legislation is about advancing the interests of the Chamber of Commerce, corporate special interests, and the Republican Party – not Native American tribes.


Members of Congress and all who claim to stand with American workers should strongly oppose the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act.

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