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Committee Statements

Rokita Statement: Markup of H.R. 986, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act

The purpose of H.R. 986 is simple: to protect the sovereignty of tribal governments.
The purpose of H.R. 986 is simple: to protect the sovereignty of tribal governments.

This shouldn’t be a Republican versus Democrat issue. The enduring principle of tribal sovereignty is respected and well-established. It has been reaffirmed time and again by Congress.

Tribal sovereignty means tribes have an inherent right to self-government. Just like state and local governments, tribes are free to develop their own policies that promote jobs, the freedom of work, and economic opportunity.

As the Chairwoman said, the NLRB respected tribal sovereignty for more than 70 years. For decades, the board treated tribal governments the same as state and local governments, which are exempt from the National Labor Relations Act

But that all changed with the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino decision, when the board began imposing its jurisdiction over tribes. Suddenly, tribes became the only form of government subject to the NLRA — a private-sector labor law.

Since then, we’ve heard from tribal leaders who have urged Congress to provide much-needed legal clarity and restore their sovereignty over employer-employee relations. Just like every other governmental employer.

At a subcommittee hearing earlier this year, we heard from the chair of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and president of the National Congress of American Indians. He told members, “This is not merely a legal issue but a moral imperative of protecting and defending the sovereignty of America’s Indian tribes, and guarding against any discrimination against those tribes.” I couldn’t agree more.

We also heard from the Chickasaw Nation. The tribe’s lieutenant governor testified that this is a “profound issue of national importance that cannot be left in the hands of an admittedly inexpert federal agency.” The Navajo Nation said, “We simply want parity. If [states] are able to self-govern and be self-determined with regards to the NLRA, so should we.”

Colleagues, more than 150 tribes have urged Congress to pass H.R. 986, and I’m proud it has bipartisan support with three Democrat co-sponsors. And as a quick reminder, last Congress this very same bill enjoyed bipartisan support on House passage.

We also have the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In a letter from the Chamber and many supporting tribes they wrote, “When tribal sovereignty is respected and acknowledged, economic success follows.” I completely agree. Madam Chairwoman, I request to have a letter submitted to the record.

The Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2017 is a commonsense bill that will prevent unelected bureaucrats at the NLRB from infringing on the sovereignty of tribes. It will restore a standard that was respected for nearly the entirety of the board’s existence: tribes should control their own labor relations in the same way state and local governments do.

We need to ensure the NLRA recognizes this standard — that being governmental parity. We are here today to amend the law to clarify once and for all that it does not apply to any enterprise or institution owned and operated by an Indian tribe and located on their tribal land. This is the fair and right thing to do.

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