Civil Rights or Sovereignty Rights? Understanding the Historical Conflict between Native Americans and Organized Labor.
Since 2004, federal district courts have sided with unions, asserting federal authority over tribal governments, and confirming the National Labor Relations Board’s authority to regulate labor issues in tribally owned and operated enterprises. Congress is now considering legislation that will overturn those decisions and exempt tribal governments from the National Labor Relations Act. Given the current make up of Congress and Trump’s presidency, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act seems likely to become law.
Comparing the labor campaigns and the associated historic legal battles that prompted that legislation in San Manuel, Chickasaw, and Mashantucket Pequot reservations, this paper examines the paradigmatic impasse that continues to fuel the conflict. Examining struggles between tribal governments and unions (that largely represent workers of color) reveals how distinct historical experience produced divergent types of political strategies and notions of citizenship.