Little River Band Ottawa Signs Two More Collective Bargaining Agreements with Unions

For Immediate Release

(October 6, 2013) Manistee, MI ​


Deepening a five year relationship under the labor law of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, the United Steelworkers Union and the Manistee, Michigan-based Little River Casino Resort have completed two new collective bargaining agreements. The contracts, which cover employees within the Resort’s security and slot tech departments, were ratified late last week by the USW.

“As far as we are aware, no other Indian tribe in the country has as many collective bargaining agreements entered into pursuant to tribal law,” said Wendell Long, the General Manager for the Resort, and a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. “This exemplifies tribal sovereignty at work,” said Virgil Johnson, the elected Speaker of the Band’s Tribal Council, which is responsible for enacting the Band’s laws. “We are very proud of our success,” he said.

In 2007, the Band enacted its Labor Organizations and Collective Bargaining Law to cover employees within its public sector operations, including the Little River Casino Resort. The Band conducts gaming as a substitute for a tax base to generate revenue to support governmental services it provides to its members under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The Band’s gaming revenues from the Resort provide the bulk of funds for its health programs, police department, and court system, as well as many other governmental programs.

The Band’s labor law establishes a structure for union elections, bargaining rules, and the resolution of unfair labor practice charges. “We found much to learn from the way state governments regulate collective bargaining,” said Speaker Johnson, “but in the end, this law reflects the unique values of our Ottawa community.”

The Resort and the USW have engaged in bargaining unit elections and collective bargaining over employment terms and conditions affecting more than 100 employees at the Resort. The first agreement was signed in December, 2010 and two others followed by October of 2012. According to Bill Laney, USW Staff Representative: “The USW and the Resort have developed a good working relationship and the successful outcome of these negotiations is proof that the Tribe’s collective bargaining law is now working. It gives employees a voice in determining their wages, hours and working conditions and the ratification of these two contracts shows that unit members are satisfied with the results.”

Ogema Larry Romanelli, the Band’s executive branch leader, has monitored management-union relations at the Band. “A lot of hard work and long hours have gone into the negotiation of these collective bargaining agreements,” he said. “They reflect the good faith of union and management, alike.”

Oral argument is scheduled before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on Tuesday, October 8th in a case in which the National Labor Relations Board has challenged the authority of the Band to apply its labor law at the Resort.

For information on the Little River Band’s labor and employment laws, contact the Office of Public Affairs for the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians at 2608 Government Center Drive, Manistee, MI 49660. Office phone 231.723.8288. E-mail to

Release: Third Collective Bargaining Agreement Signed at Little River Band of Ottawa Indians

Third Collective Bargaining Agreement Signed under Tribal Law

The Little River Casino Resort and the United Steelworkers Union have entered into a collective bargaining agreement covering the Resort’s EVS Bargaining Unit.  This is the third collective bargaining agreement entered into by the Resort and the Union under tribal law.

“We are proud of our Tribe’s success in governing labor and employment relations,” said Larry Romanelli, the elected Ogema of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.  “These three collective bargaining agreements between the Resort and the USW are concrete examples of tribal sovereignty at work.”

In 2007, the Band enacted a law governing labor unions and collective bargaining modeled on public sector labor relations laws.  The law allows collective bargaining within the Band’s public sector, which includes its gaming operations at the Little River Casino Resort.  It requires unions to hold a license from the Band, and it provides a structure for union elections, bargaining rules, and the resolution of unfair labor practice charges.  “We found much to learn from the way state governments regulate collective bargaining,” said Stephen Parsons, the elected Speaker of the Band’s Tribal Council, which enacted the law. “In the end, however, this law reflects the unique values of our Ottawa community.”

Few Indian nations have laws governing collective bargaining. The short list includes the Navajo Nation and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.

U.N.A. v. Aakom-Kiyii Health Services: Alberta Has Jurisdiction Over Labor Relations For Services Rendered On-Reserve, By Aboriginals, For Aboriginals

In U.N.A. v. Aakon-Kiyii (Peigan/Piikani) Health Services, the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) asked, “[P]ut simply for this decision — does jurisdiction over labour relations in health services on Reserve rest with the Province of Alberta or Canada?”  Great, succinct issue, but what about the First Nations themselves? 

Ultimately, the ALRB determined that the province, not the federal government (or the First Nation for that matter, but then again, that was never the issue…) has jurisdiction over labour relations in health services, even when those services are provided “exclusively on Reserve and almost solely for their respective band members . . . .”  

Both aboriginal respondents argued that the ALRB has no jurisdiction over employee/employer relations between a sovereign Indian band or entities under its control when the relationship is conducted on the reserve. 

This decision follows closely on the Supreme Court’s heels of NIL/TU, O Child and Family Services Society v. B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, [2010] S.C.J. No. 45 and CEP v. Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, [2010] S.C.J. No. 46. 

Continue reading

New Book on Navajo Tribal Labor Relations

David Kamper has published “The Work of Sovereignty: Tribal Labor Relations and Self-Determination at the Navajo Nation.” Here is the book’s website.

And the description:

Who is shaping the future of economic development in Indian Country? Who has a say in tribal economic growth and who benefits? What role do American Indian workers play in shaping how tribal economies and enterprises work? What would it mean to conceive of indigenous self-determination from the vantage point of work and workers? The Work of Sovereignty addresses these vital questions. It explores the political, economic, and cultural forces that structure and influence indigenous economic development, giving special attention to the perspectives and priorities of the indigenous working people who build tribal futures with their everyday labor. Kamper argues for the importance of recognizing tribal labor relations as a factor in indigenous economic enterprises from gaming to health care and beyond. Although most research on tribal sovereignty and economic development focuses on legal theory and governmental operations, The Work of Sovereignty centers on the people who make sovereignty work. It presents a thoughtful, in-depth look at the ways labor relations play out in Indian Country, how tribal employees view their relationships with their bosses and tribal enterprises, and how this view connects to their enactment of indigenous self-determination.

Little River Band of Ottawa Indians’ Summary Judgment Motion against NLRB

Previous materials are here, including the complaint and exhibits.

LRB Motion for Summary Judgment

LRB Statement of Material Facts

NLRB Opposition

LRB Reply

NLRB Surreply

Federal Lawyer Articles on Indian Law

The March/April 2008 issue of the Federal Lawyer featured several articles on Indian law.

Zeke Fletcher on the legacy of Martinez, Wheeler, and Oliphant: trappedinthespringof1978

Casey Douma on the Indian Civil Rights Act: 40thanniversaryoficra

Mike McBride and Susan Huntsman on tribal labor relations: organizedlaborstrategiesforindiangaming

Goodman and Maxfield on the NIGC’s gaming management contracting: isthatyourfinalanswergoodmanmaxfield

Matthew Fletcher on the Supreme Court and the rule of law: supremecourtandtheruleoflaw