Bill Introduced to Exempt Indian Tribes from Regulation by the National Labor Relations Board

On June 22, 2011, Representative Noem (R-SD) introduced HR 2335, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2011, which provides for Indian tribes to have the same status as state and local governments with respect to exemption from the authority of the National Labor Relations Board and the requirements of the National Labor Relations Act with respect to employer-employee relations. The bill does this by explicitly excluding “any enterprise or institution owned and operated by an Indian tribe and located on its Indian lands” from the definition of employer in 29 U.S.C. 152. The bill is cosponsored by Representatives Kline (R-MN),
Lewis (R- CA), Cole (R-OK), Paul (R-TX) and McClintock (R-CA).

The bill defines “Indian tribe” as “any Indian tribe, band, nation, pueblo, or other organized group or community which is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians.” See 75 Federal Register 60810 for the current list of Indian tribes so recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “Indian” is defined as “any individual who is a member of an Indian tribe.” Finally, “Indian lands” include “lands within the limits of an Indian reservation” as well as lands which are either held in trust by the United States for the benefit of a tribe or subject to restriction by the United States against alienation. A special provision applies to Oklahoma in that lands within the boundaries of a former Indian reservation (as defined by the Secretary of the Interior) of an Indian tribe are defined as “Indian lands.”

Significantly the bill is not limited to Indian tribal governments, as such, but includes any other corporation or entity which is controlled by a tribe. This definition would apply to corporations whether tribally chartered or incorporated under state law. If the bill is enacted in this form it would assist tribes in operating their tribal enterprises without the burdens of compliance with the National Labor Relations Act. The bill has been referred to the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House in each Congress since 2004.

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