The NLRB’s hearing into Foxwoods’ objections to the union election continues this week. The latest issue to resurface is one that has surfaced before — tribal sovereignty.  As I’ve said previously, I believe this is the type of "big picture" issue that may ultimately take this case up to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Because the case may ultimately end up in a higher court, I am certain that both sides are trying to lay the groundwork for such an appeal. For the tribe, that means raising the issue thoroughly and establishing a transcript and record that can be used later on. 

Reports of the hearing yesterday illustrate that this strategy was front and center is yesterday’s hearing, with seemingly trivial issues over a subpoena becoming major issues. 

According to The Day (continuing its thorough coverage of the hearing):

Monday’s arguments in the hearing, in which Foxwoods is disputing the results of a November vote by table-games dealers to unionize with the UAW, centered on whether the tribe’s police department could or should respond to a National Labor Relations Board-issued subpoena.

Last week, a subpoena was served to the police department on behalf of the attorneys representing the UAW seeking a police report that was filed by a dealer at Foxwoods. …

Elizabeth Conway, an attorney for the tribe, argued that the department was not subject to comply with the subpoena because it is “separate and distinct from the gaming enterprise.” The NLRB previously ruled that it has jurisdiction over the gaming enterprise.

[Raymond P. Green, an administrative law judge] asked why the police department doesn’t just waive sovereign immunity and release the document.

Green said that without the document, it could be detrimental to the case, in that, he would discredit the witness’ testimony. If the tribe’s attorneys could produce the document, they should.

“The subpoena is almost a red herring,” Green said.

He continued by saying the tribe’s attorneys used the witness as a sword, but when asked to back up her claims with the report, the tribe then held up a shield, using the sovereign immunity claim.

“There’s no legitimate reason for it being held secret,” he said.

The judge is expected to rule on the issue in the next day or two. Meanwhile, the hearing continued with the Tribe resting its case and the union putting on several witnesses.  The hearing continues today.

The hearing by the NLRB into objections raised by Foxwoods resumed Wednesday with new details about alleged harassment experienced by dealers in the course of the election last fall.  (For background on the objections and the elections, click here.) 

As usual, The Day is quick with the details this morning.  According to the report, one employee testified that after telling co-workers she would be voting "no" in the upcoming election, other dealers harassed her:

On the floor, one blackjack dealer said, “If you were a man I’d kick your (expletive).”

Another dealer told her she was a “backstabber” and was told, “You’ll get what you deserve.”

Another claim that has not surfaced in much detail before (other than in the Tribe’s opening statement) is the claim that there may have been improper campaigning going on.  The Day reports:

Many of the dealers, both men and women, testified that unidentified individuals were polling people in the restroom across from the Sunset Ballroom, where the election was held on Nov. 24.

The individuals, according to several witnesses, were holding a piece of paper and either a pen or pencil. Because some of the dealers were wearing their name tags, they believed the unidentified individuals were recording their name along with their vote.

They presumed the individuals were writing down names of people who did not support the union.

The Tribe is expected to rest their case sometime today at which point the UAW will have an opportunity to call their own witness to refute the testimony presented.  Obviously, as lawyers are apt to say, there’s often two (or three or four) sides to every story so expect to hear some balance to these claims over the next few day. 

For a better idea on what the tribe is claiming in the objections as a whole, I’d also suggest reviewing the Tribe’s opening statement available here

NLRB Hearings are best left to those who have lots of patience and time, two things I’m missing this week. Thus, unless there are major developments that occur, I’ll only briefly recap where things stand, on occasion, on the ongoing Foxwoods/UAW saga.

  • Yesterday, the NLRB (also called "The Board") denied Foxwoods’ Request for Review, which was discussed here.  It did so with little comment other than to note that the request "raises no substantial issues warranting review."  UAW indicated that it was a "major victory", according to The Day, and yet, given prior Board decisions on the subject, the result is not surprising.  As I indicated previously, the Tribe is likely not focusing on the Board, but establishing a record for an appeal to the Circuit Courts and perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court someday.
  • The Hearing has continued with the Tribe making a little — but not much — progress in its argument that the election ballots should have been printed in two Chinese dialects.  The Day has a thorough report on Day 2 with an update on the goings on during Day 3.  Apparently, the judge had a few reservations about the ballots used.

At one point, after the third dealer testified, the judge presiding over the hearing, Raymond P. Green said a lot of the confusion could have been avoided if the ballots were printed in multiple languages.

“If it was me, I would have translated the ballot,” Green said, but added that more evidence is needed to overturn the election.

  • A decision on the objections that the hearing is focusing on will likely come down within the next few weeks — though it could be longer given the scope of the testimony.

UPDATE: The Day, has a more thorough report of Day 3 of the hearing available here now.  The attorneys representing the regional NLRB challenged the Tribe’s arguments a bit more.

William O’Conner, an attorney representing the regional NLRB, said no written complaints from any employees about the lack of a multilingual ballot were provided to the board, despite a subpoena requesting such documents.

There was “not one iota of evidence” that any one was affected or disturbed by the ballot, O’Conner said.

Richard Hankins, an attorney for the tribe, responded after the hearing concluded for the day.

“That’s grandstanding by Mr. O’Conner,” Hankins said. “Because he’s trying to cover for the fact that the region didn’t do its job.”

While the mainstream press has been reporting on the upcoming hearing tomorrow on some of Foxwoods’ objections to the election, Foxwoods has also been challenging the Regional Director’s decision on December 21, 2007 rejecting the other objections raised by Foxwoods.  Thus, readers should be aware that reporting on the hearing tomorrow is only one front in the battle over unionization at Foxwoods. 

Earlier this month, Foxwoods filed a lengthy "Request for Review" of that December 21st decision, which can be downloaded here. While it repeats some of the same arguments made earlier, when read in conjunction with yesterday’s column in The Day, it highlights the strongest argument that the Tribe has — that tribal sovereignty and Indian law trump the "normal" rules of construction.

For instance, on pages 16-18, it notes that although federal agencies are generally afforded some deference to their rules, that deference should not be afforded when the rule is construed towards Indian tribes.

In line with that canon, the Board is consequently duty bound to interpret the NLRA’s jurisdictional reach in a manner which furthers tribal interests.  Here, that inexorably leads to a conclusion that tribes, including [Foxwoods/Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation] fall outside the NLRA’s scope…"

Foxwoods also argues that the effect of a potential strike on the tribe’s ability to provide governmental services was not considered properly by the Regional Director.  Foxwoods’ brief attaches multiple exhibits, which can be downloaded here, here and here, including its prior briefs which can give the reader additional insight into the tribal sovereignty argument. 

Notably, the State of Connecticut filed a brief in opposition on Friday, January 11th.  The State has taken a very aggressive approach to this matter and has again challenged the tribe’s arguments — saying they essentially nothing but a retread and dismissing the remaining arguments.   The  State’s brief can be downloaded here.   It’s also worth reading (its much smaller in scope) to understand the counter to the arguments raised by the Tribe. 

UPDATE: Jeff Hirsch, at the Workplace Prof blog, also has his thoughts on the arguments that are worth taking a look at. 

Readers of the blog will no doubt know that the battle for unionization at Foxwoods Resort Casino  is one of the most significant labor issues in Connecticut in many years A hearing on the tribe’s objections to the election of UAW is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, Januay 15th, which I’ve discussed before.

In advance of that hearing, The Day (which has been on top of the election throughout) published a very interesting column today by Timothy "Quietbear" Walker entitled Work With Tribe, Avoid Turf War.  

Walker, a citizen of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, shifts the discussion from the objections to the election — which contests the way the election was run — to larger issues of tribal sovereignty, which it has raised before to no avail so far.  As Walker notes, "the battle is over the NLRB reversing 30 years of federal policy because of the actions of one small tribal group in California."
Walker argues that the NLRB’s recent decision to exercise jurisdiction over tribal enterprises in some situations (including a tribal casino in California) is unfair and flawed. He argues that Tribes have the legal right to govern labor relations on tribal lands:  "Each tribal nation has the inherent authority to pass its own laws, tax its citizens, and determine the structure and operation of its government."

In doing so, he points to statement which he says "the federal government acknowledges ‘the sovereign status of federally recognized Indian tribes as domestic dependent nations’".  What is this document? A June 1, 1995 Memorandum on Indian Soveriegnty by the U.S. Attorney General, which can be found here.  Its worth reading to understand that the "tribal sovereignty" is among the most wide-ranging and important rules for federally-recognized Indian tribes.

Walker’s column argues that public education does a poor job of explaining this and argues that  many American were probably not aware that Native Americans were still around until the "media buzz on Indian Gaming".  He thus suggests that "15 minutes of research on the Internet will provide anyone interested with a simple understanding of the major issues being debated."  With the advent of Google, such information is now at your fingertips.

There are also two museums that are, frankly, worth visiting as well to get a better understanding.  (My law school did a good job explaining it, but its a little more expensive.) In Connecticut, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center is a sight to see. 

And In Washington, D.C., the National Museum of the American Indian has tons of information — much of it from a different perspective than most have probably been taught.  I had the opportunity to visit it last month and would highly recommend adding it to your itenerary on your next visit. 

(Hat Tip to Workplace Horizons Blog, which covered this today; the lawfirm behind the blog, Kilpatrick Stockton, has been representing Foxwoods in the UAW/Foxwoods dispute.)

Last week, while many (including myself) were vacationing, the NLRB set a date for a hearing on the objections raised by Foxwoods. I last updated the status in this post.  You can find all the posts about the election here.   

As to the hearing, The Day reports,

A recent decision by the NLRB found that Foxwoods’ claims that the board did not have jurisdiction over the casino and that the ballot failed to list the union’s full name were without merit and were overruled.

But 10 of the 12 objections Foxwoods filed regarding the election remain unresolved, so on Jan. 15 the NLRB will hear testimony from both the United Auto Workers union, which petitioned for the election and right to represent the casino’s roughly 3,000 dealers, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods.

The hearing will focus on the conduct of UAW representatives leading up to the vote, including what Foxwoods claims was the harassment and intimidation of eligible voters who did not support unionization. The NLRB also will examine whether ballots should have been multilingual.

If the NLRB affirms the tribe’s allegation of misconduct, it would force a new election.

Overturning the results of the election are never easy but without evaluating the evidence presented by Foxwoods, it is impossible to evaluate Foxwoods’ likelihood of success.  Perhaps the UAW engaged in some egregious behavior before the election; if so, the results of the election would be set aside, perhaps even on just one valid objection (of the 10 remaining). 

But that’s still a long way off. There will be a hearing, followed by a hearing officer decision and ultimately, a likely appeal to the entire Board.  That process could still take many months (or even over a year given the turmoil at the NLRB itself).  As stated in previous posts, this battle will continue for some time.