Puyallup Tribal Councilman David Bean was invited to be among a select group of tribal leadership to have audience with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on April 25.
“It’s not very often that you get e-mail from Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office,” Councilman Bean said. “It was quite a shock and an honor at the same time.”
With Councilman Bean were Rodney A. Butler, Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council; James A. Crawford, Secretary of The Forest County Potawatomi; Gov. Stephen Lewis, Gila River Indian Community: Todd Gates, Chairman Seneca Nation; Beverly Kiohawiton Cook, Chairwoman of the Saint Regis Mohawk; and Mark Macarro, Chairman from the Pechanga Band Luiseno Indians.
“Those are some strong leaders there. Any major issue impacting Indian Country, these folks are right in the middle of it, which means we’re right in the middle of it too if we’re participating in the conversation,” Councilman Bean said.
The big issue discussed revolved around the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act, and it wasn’t good news. Without consulting with tribal leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raised the issue of the Act in the Senate where it needed 60 “yes” votes to close debate on it and send it to the Senate floor for a full vote (the Act has already passed in the House). Unfortunately, the “no” votes outnumbered the “yes” votes. The majority of Democrats present voted “no,” including Sen. Schumer, Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell, which is troubling to Councilman Bean and other tribal leaders who have been working with the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act for quite a long time.
“Sen. Schumer could have brought this to the floor months ago and that was part of our disappointment,” Councilman Bean said.
In a nutshell, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act concerns tribal government sovereignty when it comes to the federal government exercising jurisdiction over tribal employment matters. As Councilman Bean explained, “The National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) decided they were going to exercise jurisdiction over tribes on employment matters. This went against seven years of practice where there was a hands-off approach with tribes and in fact they recognized tribes as governments. About 12 years ago they took a position that tribes and tribal enterprises are no longer exempt from that philosophy and that they were going to exercise jurisdiction. We disagree.”
Tribal leaders have traveled to Washington, D.C. numerous times to convey the message that it is not okay for the NLRB to attempting to exercise jurisdiction over tribal casinos and other tribal enterprises. “These are our tax base,” as Councilman Bean explained. “So, we’re letting members of congress know that they need to continue to uphold that tribes are governments and recognize them as governments in the language as an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act.”
Councilman Bean emphasized that this is not about opposing labor unions; it’s about tribal sovereignty and governmental parity. In fact, the fundamental principles of labor unions parallel that of tribal nations.
“We have very similar histories in that we are taking care of our members, they’re taking care of their members,” he explained. “We want to provide a safe working environment, we want to provide quality healthcare… All of these things parallel one another (with labor unions).” But the most important thing is, within the boundaries of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, the Puyallup Tribe is the appropriate sovereign to govern those activities among its enterprises.
Since the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act has passed the House, tribal leaders focused their efforts on the Democratic senators who would vote on it. Councilman Bean expressed much disappointment that Sen. Schumer worked against tribes on this matter.
“It sounds like Sen. Schumer leaned on (his Democratic constituents) pretty hard,” Councilman Bean said. “We shared our message with Sen. Schumer that we understand that because of his close ties to labor that he couldn’t necessarily support it, but he didn’t have to whip it so hard and put pressure on those Democrats who would have voted for it. He pressured them to vote against it. Every single one of us expressed disappointment. He apologized and said he should have come to tribes sooner.”
Councilman Bean said that his disappointment is punctuated by the fact that he met one-on-one with Sen. Schumer last fall when the senator was in the Northwest and asked to meet with tribes. “Whether it was short notice or not, I was the only one who attended so I had quite a bit of time with him and shared with him all the tribes’ legislative priorities,” the Councilman said.
On the more positive side, thanks to the fact that tribes are actively involved in multiple issues, there will be plenty more opportunities to meet with D.C. legislators to discuss issues like healthcare, housing, transportation, infrastructure, education and more. In fact, Councilman Bean said that Sen. Schumer has asked to meet with tribes every 60-90 days now so that stumbles like what happened with the Tribal Labor Relations Act won’t happen again.
In the meantime, Councilman Bean heads back to D.C. on May 9 to join tribal leaders from across the U.S. to testify before the Interior Appropriations Committee on a number of topics, including public safety, natural resource protection and economic development efforts, to name a few.
NATIONAL INDIAN GAMING ASSOCIATION
On April 23, Councilman Bean was officially sworn in as vice chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, a position he was appointed to fill last June to complete an unexpired term of the prior vice chair – and no one ran against him.
Councilman Bean said that his being there was a reflection of the values of the Puyallup Tribe and the Tribe’s priorities as set by the Puyallup Tribal Council.
“In selecting me, they selected the Puyallup Tribe. The work I do is a result of the Puyallup Tribe and I couldn’t do it without the support of our Council and the support of my family and community. It is an honor to have full the support of our Council, tribal leaders from around the country, and the many elders who played a role in shaping who I am today.”
NIGA is a powerful organization representing 184 gaming tribes, a $31 billion industry that provides more than 700,000 jobs. The mission of NIGA is to protect and preserve the general welfare of tribes striving for self-sufficiency through gaming enterprises in Indian Country. To fulfill its mission, NIGA works with the Federal government and Congress to develop sound policies and practices and to provide technical assistance and advocacy on gaming-related issues. In addition, NIGA seeks to maintain and protect Indian sovereign governmental authority in Indian Country.