Only days after filing an appeal of the National Labor Relations Board’s ruling ordering it to bargain with the over 2,500 dealers represented by the United Auto Workers, the Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise (Foxwoods Resort Casino) and the UAW have agreed to enter into discussions regarding a labor agreement under Tribal law.
The jurisdictional dispute over whether Tribal laws or the federal National Labor Relations Act of 1935 apply to employees on Tribal land has been waged since last November, when poker dealers at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation’s Foxwoods Resort Casino voted 1,289 – 852 to join the United Auto Workers union. The federal law is administered by the National Labor Relations Board. Mashantucket has supported employees’ right to unionize, but says they must do so under Tribal labor laws.
The dispute at Foxwoods has been watched closely by Tribes and unions across the country, as it will set a precedent for labor relations involving Tribal enterprises. Federal labor laws did not apply on sovereign Tribal land for almost 75 years after passage of the National Labor Relations Act, but in January 2007 a federal court decision upheld the NLRB’s own earlier ruling that the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in California was subject to federal labor laws.
The San Manuel case involved a narrowly-applied definition of a casino as a commercial operation, but did not deal with the wider issue of Tribal sovereignty or Indian casinos as governmental operations that provide revenue for Tribal services – issues that may still be resolved in court if the Mashantuckets and UAW fail to reach agreement in the current talks.