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Tribal Casinos Need Unions?

Across the country, our nation has seen two types of businesses pop up faster than any others, one of course is Starbucks and the other, Native American Casinos.

Be careful Gambling with your employment
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In the present job market, any employment is good employment. But there are some out there that you may not understand what you just signed up for. Tribal Casinos are one of the fastest growing and largest form of employment in many states, to include here in Washington.State and across the nation.

Presently across the country there are hundreds of Native American owned casinos. Some are as small a double wide trailer with slot machines in it. While the latest ones rival Las Vegas in their size, amount of gaming available and amenities they provide.

Here in the state of Washington, Tribal Casinos have gone through a metamorphism and expanded from just a place to play bingo to where you gambled, drank, and ate and now they offer shows, concerts, boxing, luxurious hotel rooms, fine dining and day spa treatments. They are just not a place to go, but a destination to relax in. Five star restaurants, exotic spas full of the latest treatments and ways to relax, and some of the biggest names in entertainment in beautiful theaters.

With all this expanding comes the opportunity for employment. But this is where it becomes a little different than working at a casino in Las Vegas, Reno, or Atlantic City. When you are offered and accept employment with a Tribal Casino, your first obligation is to purchase your gaming license. That license is only good for that tribes casino for one year and it must be renewed yearly at a cost anywhere from $200 to up to $350, depending on the tribe and casino.

This is also non-refundable, even if you only work there one second. These gaming licenses are not transferable, so if you work a the Muckelshoot Casino for six months than accept a position at the Snoqualime, you will be required to pay for a new gaming license and surrender your previous one. If your fired on your first day or lets say your position is no longer available, your out your money.

Next what you need to be made aware of is your now working for a sovereign Nation. The tribe is considered a separate government from our federal government while at the same time they do fall under them, but the relationship is very gray.

The first big difference is and you will hear about it often and most likely even see it on the job application, Native Preference Hiring. This is a federally recognized hiring practice that allows Native American Casinos to hire from their people first. The way it is suppose to work is you have two candidates for lets say a pit manager position. Candidate A has all the requirements of the position. Candidate B has the exact same experience and meets the requirements, but is Native American, so they will be offered the job. Sounds fair, but you will find that it does not always happen that way. Just like the CEO's Nephew who is looking for a position in the company, will you pass on him or will you do the politically correct action and hire him? Yeah, we both know the answer to that one.

Now many Tribal Casino's in Washington practice "Tribal" preference hiring, which is not recognized by the federal government, but they are leaving it up to the National Indian Gaming Association to police this, but it works the same as Native Preference, but they give more preference to hiring someone from their tribe, then a spouse, then a Native American, a spouse of a Native American, then others....this also works on promotions, transfers, and reassignments. Or as it is really known, nepotism.

The final item that needs to be addressed is the fact that working for a sovereign nation also means you as a non-Native American, do not have the same rights as the Native American workers. In fact, its totally up to the Tribal Casino if they want to recognize any state labor laws.

They must follow any Federal laws that they have in their Policy and Procedures manual, but if they do not have any listed, then they can opt out of them, such as Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) , Fair Standards and Labor Act (FLSA), Equal Employment Opportunity Credit (EEOC) and others. What does this mean? Well if your use to working in an environment where your rights as a worker are protected by EEOC and other federal and state employment laws and practices, well you are going to have to adjust your way of thinking.

Title VII or as its known, Sexual Harassment claims are also handled much differently. In the outside world, you file a grievance in accordance with your companies Workplace Harassment policy, which is normally to the HR Director, who then investigates and puts forth a report. If you feel that your still being violated and the company did not help, you can then file a grievance with the State EEOC office and they will further investigate the matter and determine if there are grounds for this case to go to court.

But in any tribal business, the final word is up to the Tribal Council as to whether they will allow you to take them to tribal court. You do have the right to take it to federal court, but only if the tribe denies you and then it will be up to the federal courts if they want to listen to the case and these take years to be heard and your bear the burden of all the costs.

Please do not get me wrong, I am not saying all the tribal casinos conduct business in this way. Many of them are managed by outside contractors who run the casinos and businesses without the distractions of these outdated polices, nepotistic practices, or as we call them Good Old Boy Rules. They and the those tribes that do this, have accepted the reality that the opportunity for abuse and misuse will occur. On the East coast, some have even allowed unions to come in an represent their employees.

This brings up the aurgument and many Tribal Casinos fear it, UNIONS. Unions were oringinally started to help protect the rights of workers against abusive corporations and companies that exploited the workers, took advantage of them, and endangered them. So how can this happen in this modern day, when we have so many State and Federal Oversight Agencies that were designed to protect Americans working in factories and job sites across our nation? Well if you skimmed over the first part of this article, you may wanted to go back and re-read it.

Some things to consider before you pay out the money for your gaming license:

1: Check out the reputation of the place.
2. Find out if they have a large turnover of people. How can you do that, well if they are always advertising for people, that's a good indicator. Now they might tell you that they are just growing and creating employment for these tough times, but in honesty, when times get tough, people try to keep their jobs. And the last time I checked, times were tough.
3. Find out if they have a union.
4. Get everything in writing.

Another item to look for is a complete training procedure that includes the tribal laws and what rights you do have as an employee working for a sovereign nation. Do you have any form of Due Process, especially in "At Will" work states. Find out what type of disciplinary and probation programs they have. While you don't plan on being a difficult employee, you want to know if they follow any form of progressive disciplinary program. This is very important, because if you do find yourself being let go for no good reason, the state Unemployment Office will take that into consideration at your unemployment hearing. While at jobs not associated with the tribe, you can win your job back because some companies do not want to pay out for a wrongful termination, but most tribal casinos will and they must.

So the bottom line here is make sure you know what your getting into if you decide to seek employment with one of the many Native American Casinos or business around the country. Get it in writing and remember that your technically not working in the United States, even though you might think you are.

For more questions about working at Tribal Casinos, please contact me by leaving a comment below or emailing me at

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