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Committee Approves Legislation to Protect Tribal Sovereignty

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), today approved H.R. 511, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2015. The legislation, introduced by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), will prevent the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from exerting jurisdiction over tribal businesses operated on tribal lands.

“This bill is based on a simple premise: Tribal leaders should be free to set labor policies they determine are best for their workplaces,” Chairman Kline said. “Yet for more than a decade, the National Labor Relations Board has taken a fundamentally different approach that is strongly opposed by tribal leaders. Congress has a responsibility to right this wrong, and the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act will help do just that. I want to thank my colleagues for supporting this bipartisan legislation and look forward to continuing this effort in the weeks ahead.”

“The Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act will put an end to the board’s overreach and give authority over labor relations back to tribal leaders,” Rep. Rokita said. “It’s a bipartisan, commonsense proposal that will provide legal certainty to the Native American community and restore a standard that was in place long before the National Labor Relations Board made the misguided decision to change course. I want to commend Chairman Kline and my colleagues for advancing this necessary legislation, and I hope the House will have an opportunity to consider the bill as soon as possible.”

In its 2004 San Manuel decision, the NLRB overturned long-standing precedent and began using a subjective test to determine when and where to exert its jurisdiction over Indian tribes. Prior to its 2004 decision, the NLRB respected Native American sovereignty and held that tribes are generally free from outside intervention. H.R. 511 will amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to stipulate that the law does not apply to any enterprise or institution owned and operated by an Indian tribe and located on tribal land, restoring to tribal leaders sovereignty over employee-employer relations. As passed by the committee, the bill also specifies that the NLRA does not apply to Native American tribes themselves. The Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions held a legislative hearing in June to discuss the bill.

To read opening statements or watch an archived webcast of today’s markup, visit