Delegate Nathaniel Brown testifies before Congress in support of labor sovereignty bill

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(Photo: House Committee on Education and the Workforce)

Contact: Jared King
Communications Director
Navajo Nation Washington Office
202-682-7390

For Immediate Release

Delegate Nathaniel Brown testifies before Congress in support of labor sovereignty bill

WASHINGTON—Navajo Nation Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown testified today before Congress in support of HR 986, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2017. The bill provides clarity on the labor rights of Indian tribes on Indian lands under the National Labor Relations Act. The Navajo Nation supports this legislation honoring its sovereignty and self-determination as well as its companion bill in the Senate, S 63.

"We are not asking for special treatment. We want the same treatment as the federal government and states. If they are able to self-govern and be self-determined with regards to the National Labor Relations Act, so should we," stated Delegate Brown.

The National Labor Relations Act (NRLA) was passed in 1935 and at that particular time, Indian tribes were at times not considered in many pieces of legislation.

"It was probably not even contemplated that the NLRA might have jurisdiction over Indian tribes until the 1976 Fort Apache Timber Co. matter. It has been a long time coming, more than 80 years, and we finally have the opportunity to resolve the unintended consequences of this issue," added Delegate Brown.

In 1976, the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) held the position that tribal governments and tribal enterprises were exempt from the Act. However, in 2004, the NLRB reversed its position and held that the board has jurisdiction over a tribally owned enterprise. This position is different than federal and state governments, as well as wholly owned government corporations, which are exempt from jurisdiction of the NLRB.

"This bill can provide a level of certainty so that the NLRB can have a consistent view even when board members change from time to time," said Delegate Brown.

"As we become more involved in developing our economy through increased commercial activities, the NLRB has stated that they will regulate us. We need to get away from this type of thinking in the federal government," said Delegate Brown.

"In today’s world, Indian tribes have to get involved in the commercial world in order to help fund a continual shortage of federal funding to provide needed services on the reservation. An Indian tribe’s use of tribal enterprise in a commercial arena to help fund needed services should not be used to hamper or thwart an Indian tribe," said Delegate Brown.

The Navajo Nation does have unions that operate on the reservation and a Navajo worker’s right to join a union is protected pursuant to the Navajo Preference and Employment Act.

This bill will not take away unions on the reservation nor affect a worker’s right to join a union on the Navajo Nation.

The Navajo government has entered into three collective bargaining agreements under the Division of Public Safety, the Executive Branch, and the Head Start department.

There are other private sector labor union agreements in place for employees on the Navajo Nation.

"We understand some tribes may have laws that are different than ours, but our ultimate message is that, as sovereign nations, each Indian tribe ought to determine its own direction on labor issues, as well as other issues," said Delegate Brown.

The Navajo Nation Council passed its own resolution in support of the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act.

"We support this legislation because it supports our sovereignty and self-determination. It also simplifies and clarifies the limits of the role of the NLRB in tribal issues," concluded Delegate Brown.

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