TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation will launch a comprehensive study of its government workforce pay and target a gradual minimum wage increase to $15 per hour by 2025, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner announced today.
Under Chief Hoskin’s “Executive Order on Raising Employee Compensation,” the tribe’s Human Resources and Finance Department will consult with outside labor experts on a comprehensive review of the pay and benefits for its more than 4,300 government workers. The study will also evaluate any gender disparity in compensation.
“Our workforce is simply the best and they are truly experts on serving the needs of our tribe and tribal citizens. They deserve a wage and benefits package that enables them to lead a good, productive quality of life and which keeps our government the employer of choice in an ever growing competitive marketplace,” said Chief Hoskin.
Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner last raised employee pay in 2019. The tribe’s current minimum wage is $11 per hour with full benefits, such as health insurance, life insurance and matching 401(k) retirement plans. For the past decade employees have also been eligible for annual pay increases, averaging 3 percent, and an annual $1,000 Christmas bonus. Workers have also received thousands of dollars in premium pay or paid leave during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We must make sure that as our tribe prospers the Cherokee people prosper. One way to do that is to make sure our workforce receives a livable wage and benefit package,” said Deputy Chief Warner. “If our employees are compensated fairly, not only will their lives be improved, they will be even more productive as they administer vital programs and services for our people. When we talk about increasing pay, we are really talking about investing in our people which benefits everyone.”
Chief Hoskin’s order calls for the completion of the compensation study by the end of the current fiscal year, September 30, 2022. The order establishes a work group to help implement the study, composed of several of Chief Hoskin’s executive leadership team as well as the Speaker of the Council of the Cherokee Nation and another member of the Council designated by the Speaker.
“Ultimately the Council must determine how to pay for any wage and benefit increase for the workforce,” said Council Speaker Mike Shambaugh. “The Chief’s executive order makes this job easier because we will have a full analysis well before we are called upon to appropriate funds. The end result will be fairness to our amazing workforce and fairness to our citizens who also benefit from Cherokee Nation programs and services.”
Chief Hoskin said the study’s slated completion date of late next year will not prevent Cherokee Nation from making pay adjustments in the meantime.
“We know that, particularly in the health care field, we must act quickly to respond to changes in the labor market,” said Chief Hoskin. “You can rest assured that in critical areas we will continually monitor and adjust pay to stay competitive even as we look forward to seeing the full study.”
Chief Hoskin’s order does not directly impact Cherokee Nation owned entities, such as Cherokee Nation Businesses. However, the order encourages those entities to make plans to meet the 2025 target to increase starting pay to $15 per hour.
Chief Hoskin’s order also directs his departments to develop a pilot Basic Income Support Program for the tribe’s starting minimum wage earners by April 2022. The pilot project would effectively raise the pay of these workers to $15 per hour by their participating in the pilot project, phasing out the program as the tribe achieves the $15 per hour minimum wage target in 2025.
Chief Hoskin said details of the pilot basic income support program will be announced within the next few months.