Defending Your Business

Working At An Indian Casino Opens Up A Can Of Labor-Related Worms

If you're considering working at an Indian casino on a reservation, double-check the status of your labor rights. While many tribes are very friendly toward unions and try to treat their employees (both Indian and non-Indian) well, the issue of sovereignty can make figuring out your rights difficult. If you were to find yourself in a labor dispute, the normal mechanisms that you would use to solve the dispute might not be available to you. Here are a couple of issues that you need to look out for if you choose to work on a reservation.

The Status of Federal and State Labor Laws Is Unclear

Because tribal land is technically sovereign land, not governed fully by the United States or a state government, federal and state laws don't always have any standing. Court issues are usually handled by a tribal court specific to that tribe, band, or reservation. Unions are not always present, though this varies by state. For example, California requires casinos to allow employees to unionize. In some cases, federal labor laws have been deemed to apply to tribal employment. In 2007, a U.S. Court of Appeals decided that a casino operation was a commercial venture, rather than a government venture, and thus federal labor laws did apply to workers at the site. However, while that sets a precedent for ventures operated as a strict commercial venue, it doesn't necessarily cover ventures meant to be non-commercial. Plus, whether a casino is considered commercial, as strange as it seems, depends on how the business is run.

Who Actually Runs the Place Matters

Indian casinos are not always run by the tribe itself. They could be managed by a non-tribal company. It is a confusing situation, but if you do find out that the company running the casino and managing you and your co-workers is actually non-tribal, then there is a better chance that you will be protected by federal and state labor laws in the event of a dispute. A labor lawyer could argue that management by a non-tribal company means the casino is non-tribal even if the profits go to the tribe.

If you need to find out which state and federal labor laws apply to you, contact a labor law attorney experienced with tribal law and its intersection with state and federal laws. The attorney can look at who employs you, how the casino is run, what precedents may have been set, what procedures the casino currently uses, and other factors to determine just how far U.S. and state laws can protect you.

For more information, contact Strauss Troy or a similar firm.