From the point of view of Indian Country, one of the most important issues
waiting for the next legislative session will be the ratification of several
tribal-gaming compacts negotiated by the Schwarzenegger administration.
Together, these compacts would generate upward of $20 billion to help pay
for schools, parks, health care, public safety and other state-government
services over the next 23 years. The benefit to the state’s economy is even
more dramatic when you consider the tens of thousands of new jobs that would
be added by both direct and indirect job growth and the billions of dollars
in new business opportunities and economic activity that would also be
Some labor unions, however, are fighting to prevent those new compacts from
ever taking effect. Fortunately, resolving this issue does not require
legislators to make a choice between unions and the sovereignty of tribal
governments. And it is certainly not true that ratification of these
compacts would mean a loss for workers’ rights.
Our commitment to workers’ rights was codified in the original gaming
compacts adopted in 1999. Those compacts include a Tribal Labor Relations
Ordinance (TLRO) that was approved by the unions’ representatives and
inserted into the compacts at the insistence of former Senate President Pro
Tem John Burton, organized labor’s foremost champion in the state Senate.
The newly amended compacts leave unchanged all of those protections for
workers. The TLRO goes well beyond the National Labor Relations Act in
guaranteeing the unions’ right to organize in tribal casinos. And those
assurances were designed by many of the same union officials who are today
standing in the way of creating thousands of jobs with these new compacts.
Because so much misinformation has been circulated about the rights of
workers at tribal casinos, it’s important to understand what the TLRO does.
It guarantees the right of workers to organize. It prohibits employers from
restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of this right. No one can
be fired for filing a claim under the TLRO and casino operators cannot
refuse to bargain collectively with employee representatives.
Under the TLRO, employees–not the tribal governments and not the
unions–decide whether they want union representation and by whom. Under the
TLRO, employees also have the right to hear both sides and to get their
questions answered. And most important, they have the right to vote on the
question of union representation in a secret ballot, just like any other
In short, the union leaders who helped to write the TLRO made certain that
it would extend the same rights as workers everywhere else enjoy. Indeed,
the TLRO even goes beyond the National Labor Relations Act in guaranteeing
the unions’ right to organize in tribal casinos and to hold secret ballot
elections within a 30-day period.
California’s tribal leaders keep their word. They signed the compacts in
1999 that established the TLRO and they continue to support those promises
today. None of the amended compacts awaiting ratification make any changes
in the TLRO.
But the union that claims the exclusive right to organize casino
employees–and which played a leading role in negotiating the ordinance–has
made almost no effort to exercise the rights conferred on it by the TLRO.
Instead, UNITE-HERE has abandoned the process and now wants to take away an
employees’ right to a secret-ballot election when it comes to union
representation. Rather than organizing employees to support their union,
they are organizing legislators to oppose the compacts.
The tribes whose compacts are now awaiting ratification believe in the
rights guaranteed under the TLRO and will defend them for their employees.
The unions, however, are trying to impose a mandate on those tribes that has
never been enforced on any other business anywhere in America.
UNITE-HERE’s opposition already has cost California taxpayers $500 million.
That is the amount of money that these compacts would have delivered to the
state in 2007 if the Legislature had ratified them before adjourning.
Ratification as soon as the new legislative session begins is in the best
interests of California and the best interests of tribal-gaming workers.