Tahlequah Daily Press

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February 24, 2014

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief signs executive order raising the tribal minimum wage

TAHLEQUAH — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker signed an executive order Friday raising the Cherokee Nation’s minimum wage to $9.50 over the next two years. The current Cherokee Nation minimum wage stands at $9 per hour, already well above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

“The Cherokee Nation’s mission is to be the employer of choice in northeast Oklahoma,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “We recognize that while the cost of goods and services has risen, wages have not, so we’re doing something about that. This wage increase will help more Oklahomans put food on the table, and rest easier about how to make ends meet. It will also allow our employees more discretionary spending, which boosts the local economy.”

Nearly 400 employees will see a pay increase resulting in more than $1,000 per year. Employees with more than one year of service earning minimum wage will jump to $9.50 per hour on Oct. 1, 2014, the first day of fiscal year 2015. Workers with less than one year of service will see a staggered increase over the fiscal year. The wage increase is possible due to strong financial stewardship, and despite federal cuts from sequestration.

“Even though we’ve had to tighten our belts due to federal sequestration, this is the right thing to do,” Baker said. “I commend our staff at Cherokee Nation for their responsible budgeting, which has made it possible to help so many of their fellow employees.”

The wage increase will apply to all Cherokee Nation government employees, which includes health care, education, housing and other operations. Cherokee Nation Businesses and its subsidiaries are not included at this time, but Baker called on the CNB board of directors to consider following suit. CNB, Cherokee Nation’s business arm, is governed by a board of directors charged with overseeing the tribe’s gaming and other for-profit businesses. The current minimum wage for CNB employees is $9.36 per hour, with approximately 600 CNB employees earning that wage.

“CNB was already well on their way to bringing the minimum wage closer to $9.50, but I hope this spurs the board of directors to take it further,” Baker said. “A similar policy for our business arm would create parity and consistency among employees across the entire tribe, and be an even bigger boost to the local economy.”

Every Cherokee Nation and CNB employee, regardless of wage status, is eligible for health, dental and life insurance; a 401k matching plan; paid vacation and sick leave; and other perks such as educational reimbursement and a year-end bonus.

“These types of benefits are not typically offered in minimum wage positions,” Baker said. “So while it may be a $9.50 per hour job, the real wage is actually closer to $12 to $13 per hour once you factor in the generous benefits packages. This further proves that the Cherokee Nation is an economic leader, and employer of preference.”

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