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Cherokee Nation investing $10.6M to increase salaries

Monday, September 11, 2023 - Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner are making major investments to the tribe’s workforce, dedicating an additional $10.6 million this year to increase the salaries for more than 80% of the government and healthcare workforce after a historic market analysis of tribal salaries.

In 2021, Chief Hoskin signed the Executive Order on Raising Employee Compensation and created the Compensation Implementation Group overseen by Deputy Chief Warner. The executive order put Cherokee Nation on a path to a $15 minimum wage by 2025 and called for a comprehensive wage study of government employees along with a recommendation on how to implement the findings.

A task force led by Deputy Chief Warner oversaw the first comprehensive study of Cherokee Nation government employee pay in the tribe’s history. The study, conducted by an outside consulting firm, completed a full-scale market study for all job descriptions within the government workforce that were not previously subjected to annual market studies.

“The tremendous progress of the Cherokee Nation, including the critical services we offer to our more than 460,000 citizens around the world, is only possible because of our dedicated work family,” Chief Hoskin said. “Deputy Chief Warner and I have been committed to this idea since we first took office in 2019, lifting up the salaries of the Cherokee Nation’s workforce in an intentional, financially-sound process. This newest study is guiding us on the next steps. When implemented this month, more than 3,200 employees will see an increase in their salaries. This ensures they are being paid the competitive market rate for their position, allowing them to better support their families and communities better while enjoying an improved quality of life.”

Based on this year’s market study, which looked at other tribes, municipalities and companies in northeastern Oklahoma, the average increase for impacted employees will be approximately 5.6%, the exact amounts vary across the workforce. After the new salaries are implemented, the Cherokee Nation will also conduct its annual merit adjustments for fiscal year 2023-2024, helping to keep employees in line with the market in the coming year.

“This is a major step for the Cherokee Nation and our tremendous workforce,” said Deputy Chief Warner. “Not only are we ensuring our current employees are paid what they should be, but bringing all of our positions up to the market rate is one more way we continue as the employer of choice in Northeast Oklahoma.”

After taking office in 2019, Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner increased the tribe’s minimum wage to $11 per hour. Then as part of the Executive Order on Raising Employee Compensation signed in 2021, Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner announced the tribe’s minimum wage is increasing to $15 per hour by 2025, which will put it at nearly twice the level of the state of Oklahoma’s minimum wage. The tribe’s minimum wage will increase to $13 per hour beginning October 1 and will reach $15 per hour by 2025. This ensures all other tribal government employees' pay is up to market, which enables the tribe to better recruit and retain a workforce and continue to be an employer of choice in the region.

Under a special incentive program, government employees presently below the $15 per hour can move up to that level by enrolling in a financial planning course. Over 90% of eligible participants are enrolled in the program.

This year’s market study considered various critical factors that impact the tribe’s compensation structure including the overall economic landscape, cost of living adjustments, employee retention goals and the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new pay scale for all employees impacted by the market study is now effective.

In recent years, Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner have implemented mental wellness leave for employees, paid family leave for births, adoption or foster placement, incentive and hazard pay to employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Flexible Spending Accounts seeded with $2,000 per child to all eligible tribal government employees.

Cherokee Nation was honored in 2022 as being one of Forbes’ Top 10 Best In-State Employers.

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