H. R. 986, Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2017


As stated in the bill, the purpose is “To clarify the rights of Indians and Indian tribes on Indian lands under the National Labor Relations Act [NLRA].” The bill achieves its purpose by changing the NLRA’s definition of “employer.” The definition would be changed such that “any enterprise or institution owned and operated by an Indian tribe and located on its land is not considered an employer.” The bill would “exclude Native American tribes and tribal enterprises and institutions on tribal land from requirements for employers under the NLRA.”

Sponsor: Todd Rosita (R-IN)

Cosponsors: Jason Lewis and 27 additional Republicans; 4 Democrats.

Why This Bill Is Against Progressive Values:

Note: This bill is a resurrection of 2015’s H. R. 511, which the Obama administration opposed. Generally, we support tribal sovereignty but not in this particular case.

The purpose of the NLRA is “to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the U.S. economy.” Consistent with the intent of the NLRA, the Minnesota DFL’s Ongoing Platform specifically supports “the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively.”

This bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce (Jason Lewis is a member). The report filed by that committee includes a “Minority Views” section, in which the Committee’s Democrats write, “This bill would strip workers of their rights to organize and collectively bargain at any enterprise owned and operated by a recognized Indian tribe on tribal land.” They note that this bill would predominantly affect low-wage employees, arguing that “this bill is another attempt to dismantle labor unions and strip workers of their ability to bargain for better pay and working conditions.” As assessed by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, “The legislation would deprive thousands of workers of protections they receive under the National Labor Relations Act.” The bill contains no requirement that tribes develop labor policies and practices comparable to the protections assured by the NLRA.

An August 2016 report issued by the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association says that an average of 15,287 people are employed each year at Indian casinos, casino-related facilities, and non-gaming businesses in Minnesota. Nationally, Indian gaming and non-gaming businesses provide nearly 700,000 jobs, according to remarks made in mid-2017 by the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association. This bill puts many workers at risk.