Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. (Cherokee Nation / Facebook)
Whereas the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council’s Executive and Finance Committee allocated $887 million for the 2019 comprehensive budget, the Committee on Monday unanimously approved the 2020 budget for $1.16 billion. This marks the largest budget ever passed for the Cherokee Nation.
“Although this is the largest budget we have passed for the Cherokee Nation, we have experienced executive directors presenting their budgets, providing us with the appropriate insight to make this decision,” Cherokee Nation Speaker Joe Byrd told the Tahlequah Daily Press.
Janees Taylor, District 15 councilor and chairwoman of the Executive and Finance Committee, told the Tahlequah Daily Press: “I am always impressed that, by far, the major of our resources, both financial and human – in the form of our employees – go to actually serving our citizens.”
Funding for minimum wage increases was part of the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. has said he will sign an executive order raising Cherokee Nation’s minimum wage to $11 an hour from $9.50, already well above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
Through the increase, fulltime employees currently earning $9.50 per hour will make an additional $3,120 annually. The increases will affect 415 government employees who currently earn less than $11 per hour, including 99 earning the existing minimum wage of $9.50 per hour. Raises will also positively impact 1,382 government employees earning between $11 and less than $15 per hour.
The change to the Tribe’s minimum wage is part of Chief Hoskin’s first 100 days of office initiatives. This will mark his first executive order as Principal Chief. The executive order will take effect Oct. 1.
“Our 3,850 Cherokee Nation employees are the backbone of our government. Raising the minimum wage is going to be life-changing for them and their families at a time when the costs of goods and services continue to rise,” Chief Hoskin said. “For months, I have listened to the concerns of our tribal employees and sought guidance from the Council of the Cherokee Nation. I promised them I would put together a plan that is both fiscally responsible and allows employees to rest easier knowing they will be able to better make ends meet. I’m proud this will be one of my first acts as Principal Chief. This pay increase is absolutely the right thing to do, and this is the right time to do it.”
Cherokee Nation employees are also 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 holiday bonus.
Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said these benefits coupled with the Tribe’s new $11 per hour minimum wage will allow the Cherokee Nation to continue being an economic force for the state and an employer of choice for northeast Oklahoma.
“Taking care of Cherokee Nation employees and their families is a responsibility we do not take lightly,” Deputy Chief Warner said. “These women and men are on the frontlines of providing vital services to the Cherokee people. When we pay employees a competitive wage, they not only benefit by having more money to pay bills and to put into savings, but the Cherokee Nation as a whole benefits because our quality of life is improved.”
Chief Hoskin announced the minimum wage increase at the new W.W. Hastings outpatient health facility in Tahlequah during a surprise visit with more than 100 employees who will be affected by the change.
“This announcement makes me feel very appreciated. I had tears in my eyes when Chief Hoskin made the announcement, I was so happy,” said Michelle Keys, a Cherokee Nation Human Services clerk. “The employees deserve it. We work really hard and to be appreciated this way, it makes me feel loved. When we received merit raises each year in the past, I always took the lump sum because something would come up where I needed it, like an emergency, and I might not otherwise be able to pay for it. So raising the minimum wage is pretty awesome.”
Chief Hoskin said the Cherokee Nation’s pay increase is possible due to strong financial stewardship of Principal Chief Bill John Baker’s administration over the past eight years.