Cherokee Nation Businesses increases its minimum wage

BY CHAD HUNTER
Reporter
09/19/2019 08:45 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Employees at Cherokee Nation Industries in Stilwell applaud the Sept. 18 announcement of an increase to the Cherokee Nation Businesses minimum wage. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. announces a minimum wage hike for employees of Cherokee Nation Businesses on Sept. 18 in Stilwell. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
STILWELL – Like Cherokee Nation governmental and health employees, those in the tribe’s business arm will also earn at least $11 an hour beginning in October, it was announced Sept. 18.

The minimum-wage hike from $9.50 to $11 per hour will affect an estimated 2,500-plus of the 7,500 Cherokee Nation Businesses employees who earn $12.50 per hour or less, according to the tribal administration.

“I have a new baby,” two-year Cherokee Nation Industries employee Mariah Hooper, 23, said. “I was barely making it. This is going to help me a lot.”

Ten-year employee Martin Cochran said the new wage is “what we need.”

“A lot of people have families and they can’t make it on minimum wage,” he said. “So this is really good for them. You know, if you pay the people what they’re worth, then they’ll want to come to work. It’s as plain and simple as that.”

According to the CN, the increase will affect full-time staff earning between $9.50 and $12.50 per hour, and is scheduled to begin Oct. 5 under the new fiscal year.

“CNB leaders expect more than 2,500 employees, including nearly 60 who work in Stilwell, to see an increase in hourly wages,” a news release states.

Tribal leaders, including Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., made the announcement to workers at the CNI engineering and manufacturing facility in Stilwell.

“I am so proud we are reinvesting in the people that make this happen,” CNB CEO Chuck Garrett said. “Here we are today, celebrating some real prosperity, some real progress.”

Tribal Councilor Shawn Crittenden, who represents a portion of Adair County, lauded the initiative.

“Like Chief Hoskin said, long before the casinos, long before, you know, the successful diversified businesses, there were Cherokees working every day just like you do here,” Crittenden told employees. To the administration, he said, “Let’s continue good works like this. If we all work together, man, it’s going to be good.”

Hoskin called the Stilwell facility a fitting site for the wage announcement.

“A lot has changed since CNI was founded decades and decades ago, some 50 years ago,” he said. “Of course, we have casinos now, all sorts of different businesses. But we need to always remember that it all started right here.”

In August, Hoskin and his administration announced a similar wage increase for the tribe’s full-time governmental and health employees also beginning in October.

“You can look at spreadsheets and you can see we’re very prosperous,” Hoskin said. “But if that prosperity is not shared with the men and women who get us there, then it is not the kind of prosperity I’m interested in.”

The governmental wage increase is expected to affect 415 employees earning less than $11 per hour, including 99 earning the existing minimum wage of $9.50 per hour.

The initiative is expected to also positively impact nearly 1,400 employees earning between $11 and less than $15 per hour.

According to the CN, full-time employees earning $9.50 per hour will make an additional $3,120 annually. The lowest-paid CN employees already earn more than the state’s minimum wage. Oklahoma is one of 16 states that follow the federal minimum-wage requirement of $7.25 that was enacted in 2009.

CN employees are 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.

CNB, the holding company for the tribe’s for-profit businesses, pays a direct dividend of 37 percent of its profits to the tribe for services such as housing, health care, education and social services. The remaining 63 percent is reinvested into jobs, wages, business development and special projects, according to the tribe.
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