The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians has received a blow to their casino operation. The staff working at the casino is largely non-tribal in make up. Based on the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Ottowas have employed a non-union workforce and used their own labor practices. The casino is located in Manistee Michigan on sovereign land owned by the tribe. An unfair labor practice suit was filed in 2011 by the International Teamsters Local 406 against the Little River Band. Using language of the National Labor Relations Act, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Teamsters which will not allow the tribe to use their own labor laws. In a 2-1 split decision, the court moved that the Indian Affairs Act can not overrule other federal laws. This decision is amid concern of the reach of labor laws being applied to tribal sovereignty.
The majority rule was based on the effect of federal laws upon not only Native American ventures, but states as well. Even the power of the Tenth Amendment, which protects state’s individual laws, does not allow for that power to override federal law when in conflict. No infringement takes place upon the tribe when the majority of employees lives outside, and are not members of the Little River Band. The Ottawa Indians fought the suit by the Teamsters stating the Indian Gaming Act protected the revenue of the tribe from outside interference. Half of the tribe’s income comes from the casino.
From the inception of labor act in 1935, this ruling had not affected any tribal means of income. That came under fire in 2004, when the realization of not only the majority employees, but also patrons was not of Native American make up. From that point on, most all battles of this ruling have been lost by various tribes. Just last week, however, the National Labor Relations Board decided not to fight the labor laws of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma. Their decision of this matter was based on treaties between the tribe and the federal government. There may be more attention in the near future as Congress is looking at the reach of the labor act upon sovereign nations.