Chickasaw Nation wins case against labor board over jurisdiction in union-organizing complaints

Blackjack dealers at WinStar World Casino in southern Oklahoma alleged unfair labor practices during a union drive last year, but the Chickasaw Nation said it was exempt from federal labor relations law.
BY PAUL MONIES pmonies@opubco.com Published: July 20, 2011
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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 order.

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.

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To say they don't fall under federal law and then use the federal system to change that, there's some irony there.”

Ron Cobb

President and business manager, Teamsters Local 886, Oklahoma City

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