AG Blumenthal helps win casino case

John O'Brien Feb. 12, 2007, 2:25pm


WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court on Friday sided with a hotel and restaurant workers union that received help from Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, declaring that Indian nations are subject to federal labor laws.

A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., decided that sovereignty of Indian nations does not exempt them from the labor laws. The decision upheld one made by the National Labor Relations Board.

That decision came after the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, or "HERE," filed a complaint against the San Manual Band of Mission Indians of California. The union said it was denied access to the casino for organizing while another union, Communications Workers of America, was not.

The San Manual Band of Mission Indians argued that the NLRB had no jurisdiction over its tribe, but the NLRB did not agree -- nor did the federal appeals court.

"Tribal sovereignty is not absolute autonomy, permitting a tribe to operate in a commercial capacity without legal constraint," said the opinion, which was written by Judge Janice Rogers Brown.

Blumenthal had intervened in the case and claimed it had implications in his state, which has two Indian tribes that own and operate casinos.

"This historic victory opens a new era for working men and women at tribal casinos in Connecticut and across the country," Blumenthal said, according to a report in the Hartford Courant. "While we respect the principles of tribal sovereignty, this ruling guarantees basic rights deserve respect, no matter who the employee."

Blumenthal recently argued that the Indian casinos in Connecticut were not subject to the state's anti-smoking law, though years earlier he had written an opinion that said all casinos must have public health and safety laws as strict as the state's -- a fact that confused Justice William Sullivan, the lone dissenter in a 4-1 decision upholding the smoking ban in restaurants and cafes but not in casinos and private clubs.

He is also attempting to ensure the collection of taxes from slot machines leased to the tribes by non-Indian entities.

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