Hayworth still pushes to extend Indian exception for labor law

Undeterred by controversy over GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s dealings with Indian tribes and their casino interests, Rep. J.D. Hayworth, (R-Ariz.) will continue to push for a bill exempting American Indian businesses from answering to the National Labor Relations Board.

Hayworth attempted to offer a version of the measure Friday as an amendment to the labor, health and human services and education appropriations bill. But the bill, which would exempt all American Indian businesses including casinos from federal labor laws on the grounds that the tribes are sovereign nations, was defeated in a lopsided vote of 256-146.

File Photo
Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.)


“We’ve been at this for years,” Hayworth aide Ryan Serote said yesterday, “We’re not stopping with last week’s vote.”

Hayworth has been working on American Indian labor issues for years. But the issue became a top priority for tribes last year when the National Labor Relations Board changed 30 years’ precedent by holding that the reach of federal labor law extends to tribal enterprises located on reservation land.

The dispute arose when the union for the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino hotel employees complained about being barred from organizing at a casino owned by the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians, even though the tribe permitted another union to organize there.

In early January, Hayworth introduced a stand-alone bill, co-sponsored by Reps. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Ron Paul (R-Texas), that would exempt tribal businesses from the NLRB’s purview. The legislation was referred to the Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations but has since sat dormant.

On Friday, Hayworth tried a different strategy, attempting to eliminate the funding of any activities related to ensuring that tribal businesses abide by NLRB laws and regulations.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Hayworth pursued the amendment two days after fellow Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain held the third public hearing in his investigation into allegations that Abramoff and several close associates bilked several tribes of more than $80 million in fees.

During the hearing, McCain sharply questioned Kevin Ring, who worked with Abramoff at the firm Greenberg Traurig, on several American Indian clients’ account. McCain wanted to know what work Ring did for $150,000 in fees he had received from outside organizations run by Abramoff and his business partner Michael Scanlon. Ring invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Since the Abramoff scandal broke, Ring left Greenberg Traurig for Barnes & Thornburg. But he continues to represent several Abramoff clients, including the former Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, one of dozens of tribes lobbying in favor of Hayworth’s bill.

Hayworth spokesman Larry VanHoose confirmed that Ring was one of several lobbyists pushing the legislation.

“There’s a whole bunch of tribes on this,” VanHoose said, “This involves a comprehensive effort across the map. Every time the congressman speaks to gatherings or tribal representatives, he’s asked what’s the status of the legislation.”

VanHoose said the bill is completely unrelated to the brewing scandal surrounding Abramoff and Indian gaming, adding that it would be “ludicrous and highly prejudicial” to link Ring’s decision to plead the Fifth Amendment with any of his work on this measure. The appropriations schedule, he said, dictated the timing of the amendment.

Ryan Serote, another Hayworth aide, noted that Ring also represents the Hopi Indian tribe, of Arizona, one of the reasons his boss is pushing the bill.

“I don’t care if Kevin is involved or not,” Serote said. “He represents the Hopi, which is one of our home-state tribes.”

Serote also emphasized that the office was working with the Hopi, not Ring. “That’s where the relationship is and where it began,” he said. “Who they hire is up to them.”

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