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Cherokee Nation set to raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour

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 Monday.

On Monday, the Cherokee Nation announced they will raise the minimum wage for its government workforce to $15 an hour. The tribal nation will also study pay among other employees to make sure they are being compensated fairly.

Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed the Executive Order on Raising Employee Compensation, which will raise wages for those making $11 an hour to $15 an hour by the end of 2025. These government workforce employees can expect to see that first bump in pay in 2022.

Employees last had their wages raised in 2019 to the current rate of $11 per hour. These employees also receive full benefits, such as health insurance, life insurance and matching 401(k) retirement plans.

Hoskin said he wants people to be paid fairly.

"I want Cherokee Nation to get to a point where if you work for us, you earn a living wage from the beginning and that you can earn a living for your family, that you have full benefits," said Hoskin. "I think that keeps us as an employer of choice."

Cherokee Nation wants to study the impact of the increased pay over five years is to avoid what Hoskin calls "compression."

"So that increasing the wage by even a dollar doesn't diminish what longer tenure employees have earned," explained Hoskin.

The wage increase does not apply to Cherokee Nation Businesses, although they are strongly encouraged to raise wages for their employees. 

The tribal nation workforce employs roughly 4,300 people.

Hoskin said he wants to study pay for all employees working within Cherokee Nation, not just those working in entry-level jobs that will benefit from the $15 per hour increase.

"My sense is that we've not done a great job across our government in correctly scoring what the market demands and certain jobs," said Hoskin. "So we have to keep a workforce that is the best and brightest."

The compensation study is set to be completed by September 2022.

Hoskin also wants to develop a pilot Basic Income Support Program for the tribe’s starting minimum wage earners by April 2022. This program would involve looking at what financial challenges some of these entry-level wage earners face and offering some financial literacy classes also.

Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
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