Unions and politicians are joining sides in requiring tribal governments and enterprises to enable the unionization of employees. As tribal enterprises often run basic government services on reservations, tribes have argued that unions could too easily hold whole communities hostage economically. Indian Country Today surveyed its network of American Indian Opinion Leaders for their thoughts as tribes attempt to prevent labor unions from entering their establishments.
In the survey, 71 percent of respondents indicated that tribal enterprises and casinos should not allow labor unions to unionize tribal employees on Indian lands. Many respondents agree with Nancy Basket (Cherokee) who commented, “Our tribal governments must be allowed to decide for themselves all matters pertaining to their own nations.”
Twenty percent of respondents thought that labor unions should organize tribal employees while 9 percent indicated they did not know.
A significant 79 percent of respondents also indicated that tribes should be protected from entering into coerced agreements to accept unionization of their enterprises and casinos. The survey result was in response to California Governor Gray Davis’ approval of gaming compacts that require tribes to “stay neutral” as unions organize their casino work forces. A staunch supporter of indigenous sovereignty, Tony Cerda, Tribal Chairman Costanoan Rumsen Tribe, stated: “Native American tribes are sovereign entities. This sovereignty was not given to us by anyone ? our sovereignty was never given up by our ancestors. No one has the right to force anything on us.”
A mere 18 percent of respondents thought that tribes should not be protected from entering into coerced agreements while 3 percent did not know.
When asked to rate the current working conditions for tribal employees, responses were more divided. Twelve percent of respondents indicated that tribal employees have extremely good working conditions. Another 32 percent indicated that working conditions are somewhat good. Commenting on the favorable working conditions for tribal employees, Patricia Murphy Brattland (Dumna/Kechayi Yokuts/Pomo) wrote, “Tribal enterprises generate enough money to compensate their employees and take care of their employees in the fashion that should be expected.”
Twelve percent of respondents thought that the current working conditions for tribal employees are somewhat bad, while 9 percent indicated extremely bad. Offering unions as a solution, Laura Harris (Comanche), Executive Vice President of Americans for Indian Opportunity, commented: “The basis for healthy communities is living wages. We know that poverty engenders abuse, alcoholism, ignorance and cultural destruction. Unions are good for workers ? If the well-being of workers is the main concern, then unions are necessary.”
Thirty-five percent of respondents indicated that they were unsure if the current working conditions for tribal employees are “good” or “bad.”
Sharing the sentiment of many respondents that labor unions on Indian lands encroach on Indian sovereignty, Linda Tenequer (Muscogee Creek) wrote: “We must begin to establish the rules of engagement and this goes for anything that is developed on and within tribal boundaries. We should decide that, not the government or any other entity ? We need to continue to be knowledge seekers so we can protect our people and things that belong to us.”
To become an American Indian Opinion Leader send name, tribal affiliation and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org.