Cherokee Nation raises minimum wage
By Jami Custer
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A pay raise for hourly employees of the Cherokee Nation took effect October 14, boosting minimum pay 75 cents per hour to $8.25, an increase hailed by Principal Chief Chad Smith as a way to show the nation cares about its workers. Council approved the three-tier raise for all tribal businesses during the past council term by a vote of 11-6. The third phase will be triggered Oct. 1, 2008, and will boost pay to no less than $9 hourly. “The Cherokee Nation cares about all employees. This wage increase is a way to help all of them, both new employees and our many long-term employees,” Smith said. “We want to provide our workforce with good jobs, good benefits, good opportunities and good wages. By doing so, we are better able to strengthen our communities, our families, our government and its citizens.” Council Speaker Meredith Frailey said tribal leadership wanted to raise the wage to provide a “decent standard of living” for employees. “I think the wage increase really helps our single parents who have children as well,” said Frailey, District 6 Seat 2. “Raising the wage is fundamental on how the CN values work and the Cherokee people.” Frailey pointed out that the wage is higher than what is paid federal government employees and also exceeds wages paid in the area. Many employees at the Cherokee Casino in Tahlequah are paid hourly, including Dottie Dorsel, an EVS attendant who says the raise will help a lot. “When I first started working for CNE, I was surprised that their minimum wage was higher than the federal government’s,” said Dorsel. “I was thankful for the first raise in January. This next raise will help to create a better quality of life for me and so many others.” Dorsel, who is not Cherokee, said she was impressed by how far the Cherokee Nation goes to provide for not just its citizens, but for the community. “This pay increase will benefit all employees of the CN, regardless of ethnicity,” she said. The increase in wage can benefit an hourly employee a great deal. For instance, a typical CN employee working full time can increase their weekly pay by nearly $30. The mission of the CN is to create “ga du gi” which means working together. The idea is to work together as individuals, families and communities for a better quality of life for this and future generations by promoting confidence, the tribal culture and an effective sovereign government. “The goal of our government and businesses is to work toward the betterment of our citizens, our employees and communities,” added Smith. “To ensure a more stable financial foundation to all of our employees, we feel that it’s our duty to help provide a base salary that reflects the rising cost of living.” Councilors voting to pass the act were Bill John Baker, Audra Smoke-Conner, Joe Crittenden, Frailey, Chuck Hoskin, Linda Hughes-O’Leary, Taylor Keen, Johnny Keener, Melvina Shotpouch, David Thornton and Phyllis Yargee. Councilors voting against the act were Jackie Bob Martin, Don Garvin, Cara Cowan Watts, Bill Johnson, Buel Anglen and Jack Baker.