TULALIP — The federal government dropped in on the Tulalip Tribes’ administration Tuesday to learn more about how the tribes dealt with labor agreements during the construction of its casino and resort hotel complex.
Assistant Labor Secretary Jane Oates visited with tribal board members and staff during a trip to the Tulalip Indian Reservation. Oates filled in for U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who was detained in Washington, D.C., following Monday’s coal mining disaster in West Virginia.
Oates praised tribal leaders for the way in which they have handled labor agreements on the reservation and worked to make sure tribal members have employment opportunities.
“We hear nightmares about how some tribes are not able to negotiate with labor unions,” Oates said. “The Tulalip Tribes did an amazing job, and we are here to learn from them.”
Oates’ tour included a visit to the Tulalip Tribal Employment Rights Office, which has a mission to protect preferential employment for tribal members and contracting rights on the reservation. The office also works to improve wages, training and career and contracting opportunities, said George White, spokesman for the Tulalip Tribes.
Unemployment on reservations throughout the nation is a concern in President Barack Obama’s administration, Oates said. “It’s unacceptable that unemployment in Indian Country is five times what it is among non-natives,” she said.
Tulalip board member Glen Gobin told Oates that myths, stereotypes and misconceptions about the tribal work force were dispelled during construction projects on the reservation. Many of those who got jobs on their reservation later went on to work other major construction projects throughout Western Washington, he said.
“We know that our tribal members are our most valuable resource,” Tulalip Chairman Mel Sheldon said.
Oates said education and training are the key to a thriving American work force for the 21st century.
“We don’t make T-shirts anymore,” Oates said. “We are going to be competitive with other nations because we are innovative and highly skilled, and we have the ability to be the leaders in information technology, pharmaceuticals and alternative energy products, for example.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.