Unite Here President D. Taylor has a message for Senate Democrats: If you vote in favor of an upcoming bill to limit the reach of federal government regulators on Indian tribal lands, he will cut you off completely. And he’s lobbying other labor leaders to do the same.
“It is the height of hypocrisy and completely dishonest for Democrats to deny workers their right to have a union,” Taylor told the Washington Examiner in an interview Wednesday, adding that he believed the Teamsters, the United Steel Workers, and other unions felt the same regarding the legislation, called the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act.
“This is not just us… We are all working in concert,” Taylor said, comparing it to the united front unions made against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which ultimately prevented the Senate from voting on the proposal in 2016 despite heavy lobbying from then-President Obama.
Taylor nevertheless conceded he didn’t know if the unions had the support to sustain a filibuster in the upcoming vote.
"We’re looking for allies on both sides,” he said.
The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation later this month.
The legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act, the main federal law covering unions, to say that it doesn’t extend to Indian reservations. The NLRA, written in 1935, does not specifically address tribal lands and for most of its existence the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that enforces the NLRA, took a hands-off approach. In most cases, the legal authority for workers' rights were the tribes themselves, many of which have been anti-union.
That changed in 2004 when the NLRB, then lead by George W. Bush appointees, asserted that it did have authority over tribal lands and would start to enforce it. It was a partial win for unions. Some tribes, like the Navajos, have allowed unions on their lands, but labor groups like Unite Here and tribal leaders have clashed elsewhere.
Most tribes have lobbied Congress to overturn the NLRB's move, arguing that being forced to abide by federal regulations will undermine the profitability of their casinos, the main sources of revenue for most tribes. A reversal would cripple labor's efforts at organizing casino workers.
The House version of the legislation passed last month on a bipartisan 239-173 vote with 23 Democrats joining 216 Republicans to support it. The legislation was subsequently attached to a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Democrats expect significant defections because the casinos are powerful local interests in many states. Tying the issue to Flake's legislation, which originally dealt with tribal water rights, is expected to bring along a few additional votes since that is an important local issue for some tribes and their Senate allies.
“I’m worried a lot about [Virginia Democrat] Tim Kaine. He cut a deal with [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell (R-Ky.) and didn’t tell us,” Taylor said. “[Sen. Bill] Nelson (D-Fla.) is also a problem.”
He was hopeful his side could pick up a few stray GOP votes to offset those losses, saying Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., was a potential ally.
Taylor said the tribes did deserve special treatment from the government due to past discrimination but scoffed at arguments that all tribes needed to be free from labor regulations.
"Many of these are huge, highly profitable enterprises that would rival anything in Las Vegas," he said, adding that 90 percent of the tribal casino workers are not Native Americans but people who live outside the reservations.
The union leader is still steamed that 23 Democrats voted in favor of the legislation in the House, saying they got “no heads up” from their usual allies that they were defecting.
“I haven’t been able to get a rational explanation from them. I guess you’ve got to follow the money,” Taylor said.