A federal judge in Oklahoma City has agreed with the Chickasaw Nation that tribal sovereignty prevents union-organizing complaints at the state's largest casino from falling under the jurisdiction of a national labor board.
U.S. District Judge Lee R. West stopped an August hearing by the National Labor Relations Board about employee complaints at the tribe's WinStar World Casino in Thackerville.
The complaints by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 886 said WinStar supervisors engaged in threats and surveillance of blackjack dealers participating in a union-organizing campaign last year. WinStar has about 2,800 employees.
WinStar and the tribe denied the union's allegations. The tribe also filed suit in Oklahoma City federal court to block the labor relations board from hearing the case.
West issued a preliminary injunction last week. He said allowing the labor relations board to go forward with its administrative hearing would violate the Chickasaw Nation's sovereignty.
“The threatened injury to the (Chickasaw) Nation's sovereignty outweighs any possible injury to the NLRB,” West wrote in his
Naomi Stuart, deputy regional director for the labor relations board in Overland Park, Kan., said the board plans to appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
“It's certainly an unsettled area of the law,” Stuart said.
In 2004, the National Labor Relations Board won a legal battle in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit giving it jurisdiction of labor issues on Indian reservations. But other appellate courts across the country have interpreted the law differently. The National Labor Relations Act does not contain any references to tribal businesses.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, is a co-sponsor of a bill that would forbid the labor relations board from any jurisdiction on tribal lands. The bill's author, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., introduced it in June.
“Interference from the National Labor Relations Board is a violation of tribal sovereignty and an obstacle to economic development,” Cole said Tuesday in a statement. “This bill would ensure tribal businesses in Oklahoma and around the nation aren't held back by government overregulation.”
Stephen Greetham, chief general counsel for the Chickasaw Nation's Commerce Division, said the tribe tried to work with the labor relations board to settle areas of jurisdiction before the board filed unfair labor complaints.
“This case is about a tribal government being forced to defend itself from a federal agency's effort to aggressively expand its jurisdiction at the expense of tribal treaties, tribal legal and governmental systems and tribal regulatory obligations under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” Greetham said in an email.
Ron Cobb, president and business manager for Teamsters Local 886 in Oklahoma City, said the union has no intention of withdrawing its complaints against WinStar. The union local has about 2,100 members across the state in several types of
Cobb said the employee complaints are in limbo as the jurisdictional issues get worked out in the courts. He said the complaints are with WinStar management, not the tribe itself.
“To say they don't fall under federal law and then use the federal system to change that, there's some irony there,” Cobb said.
The Chickasaw Nation has its own right-to-work ordinance that also states the tribe “does not consent to the jurisdiction of any nontribal agency, federal or state, for the regulation of tribal-employee relations.” That ordinance was enacted in November 2004.
To say they don't fall under federal law and then use the federal system to change that, there's some irony there.”