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VIDEO: Russell, Cole Support Federal Tribal Sovereignty Labor Legislation

U.S. Rep. Steve Russell during a July 2015 meeting of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
U.S. Rep. Steve Russell during a July 2015 meeting of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

On Tuesday the U.S. House passed a bill that exempts businesses on tribal lands from the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board. Supporters say the measure clears up statutory confusion and preserves tribal sovereignty.

U.S. Rep. Steve Russell voted in favor of the bill, and said on the House floor the debate is clearly spelled out in the U.S. Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 says Congress has the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the states, and with Native American tribes.

“As a Representative from Oklahoma, whose 5th District is more than 13 percent Native Americans, our largest minority, our constituents know that the actions of the rule makers will take away the rights of sovereign tribes,” Russell said.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, who’s a member of the Chickasaw Nation and one of only a handful of Native Americans in Congress, says the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act restores authority granted to tribes 80 years ago under the National Labor Relations Act, but taken away in 2004.

“Practically every county and city in this country has a golf course. Most states have a lottery. The National Park Service operates hotels,” Cole said. “All of these activities are not regulated under the NLRA. It should be the same with tribes.”

Oklahoma’s three other representatives also voted for the measure. The White House said in a statement while it supports tribal sovereignty, it wants to see legislation calling on tribes to adopt standards for workers equivalent to the NLRA.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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