New high-rise hotel at Sycuan
The new high-rise hotel at the Sycuan Casino Resort. Courtesy of the tribe

To the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, giving back to the San Diego community has been a top priority. We pride ourselves on being a dedicated partner to numerous local organizations ranging from social, education and health services to the arts, athletics and the environment.

Our priorities also include providing our 2,386 employees with a safe, healthy and supportive work environment. In our most recent employee survey, 92% of our employees expressed pride in working for Sycuan. A total of 44% of our employees have worked with us for more than five years, and 30% for more than 10 years.

Our commitment to our employees runs deep.  We offer comprehensive and competitive benefits that include continued training and development resulting in 56% of supervisors being promoted from within, low-cost medical, dental and vision insurance, an on-site medical and dental center with pharmacy and chiropractor services, a wellness program, free uniforms, free shuttle service, an employee assistance program, a 401(k) match, and a generous paid time-off package.

That’s why we were disappointed by inaccurate and unfair claims recently made by the local hotel workers union, stating that we are violating our obligations under our compact with the state of California regarding labor relations. The union notably omitted some important facts.

  • First, the case is currently in litigation and on appeal before the 9th Circuit, and until that case is resolved the tribe is following established legal procedure, not openly flouting it as was misstated by the union.
  • Second, tribal employees are not without labor rights, but rather, applying federal labor law puts them on equal footing with employees throughout the country.
  • Third, the suggestion that the legislature should insert some type of unilateral termination clause raises separation of powers issues between the executive branch, courts and the legislature, and elevates a third party’s rights to interfere with a state and tribe’s contract.

Since the adoption of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, we have worked with state government in good faith to clarify a range of issues surrounding our operations. In 2015, we negotiated our most recent tribal compact with the state of California. As part of that compact, Sycuan adopted a Tribal Labor Relations Ordinance (TLRO) that included provisions related to union organizing.

Subsequent to approval of the 2015 compact, rulings by federal courts, including those covering California and review by the U.S. Supreme Court, have determined that the National Labor Relations Act takes precedence over state agreements related to labor relations on tribal lands. Most recently, the Pauma litigation brought by the hotel union solidified federal labor law’s application to tribal casinos. As a result of these rulings, our position has been that it is our obligation to follow federal law where it is inconsistent with the TLRO.

We respect and have frequently worked collaboratively with organized labor on numerous projects to improve the San Diego community, and we look forward to continuing to do so in the future.  We urge our friends in organized labor to join us in allowing the courts, and not misleading political claims, to resolve inconsistencies between tribal and federal law.

Cody J. Martinez is chairman of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.

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