As many Cherokees know by now, this past week a new minimum wage law took effect in the Cherokee Nation. From an executive order issued by Chief Baker back on Feb. 24th, wages rose from $9.00 an hour to $9.50. The Nation is gaining praise for being a leader among organizations and paying their employees a good decent wage. In one recent website article, the Nation’s progressive action was used as an attack on the Oklahoma’s Governor who refuses to raise the state’s minimum wage (See sidebar).
Most all Cherokees agree this is a good thing, but did you know a minimum wage hike law was introduced into the tribal council more than a year ago, six months before Chief Baker’s announcement? It called for the same initial wage hikes, but was voted down by the council and tabled.
From looking over the four Cherokee Phoenix articles on this issue and watching the council meeting videos, some surprising things pop up and it all appears to evolve around a split in the tribal council between the “majority block” and the “minority block.” In the past few years, these two blocks seem to have consistently voted against each other on major issues facing the Cherokee Nation. And the Nation’s Administration appears to always align with the “majority Block.”
On August 29th, 2013, Council member Jack Baker, in the minority block, introduced an amendment to the minimum wage act of 2006 to raise wages to $9.50 an hour by January 1st, 2014, and then to $10.50 by October 1st of this past week. He cited the Chickasaw Nation’s minimum wage at $10.74 as a standard to achieve. Jack stated that the cost of the hikes would be around $150,000 for the first 9 months.
If Jack’s law had passed, the minimum wage of Cherokee Nation employees would have been raised nine months ago. What happened? Councilor Jack Baker’s amendment was tabled by the “majority block,” meaning the council would not discuss it for a period of at least 90 days. In the meeting, Jack proposed the law and Tina Glory Jordan made a motioned for it to be tabled. There was no discussion and the majority block tabled it. The entire session for this topic took less than three minutes of a ninety-minute meeting.
Here’s the minutes summary of that August 29th, 2013 rules committee meeting.
The next council meeting scheduled to discuss Jack Baker’s minimum wage hikes was set for February 27th, 2014. But by an odd coincidence, or maybe not so odd, on February 21th, days before that meeting, Chief Baker issued his executive order raising minimum wages. When that scheduled council meeting rolled around that was to discuss Jack’s law, well, Chief Baker’ executive order had already been issued, but Councilor Jack Baker proposed a new version of his amendment. He wanted to enact the minimum wage hikes sooner. The majority block voted it down by a motion to “table indefinitely.”
Here’s the summary of that February 27th, 2014 rules committee council meeting.
In a recent Cherokee Phoenix article about the wage hikes, Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskins said, “We really raised it because Chief Baker thought it was the right thing to do. The buying power of our minimum wage just wasn’t what it used to be. We needed to make sure our entry-level employees had a wage that they could make a living on.”
But a year earlier, Chuck Hoskins, then a council member of the “majority block,” voted to table any discussion of a minimum wage amendment.
When Chief Baker announced his wage hikes, Tribal Councilor Tina Glory Jordan, one of the majority block, said “The chief has, by executive order, raised our minimum wage to $9.50 and I applaud him for that” and “I think he’s done an excellent job in analyzing and their thought process is quite good on how they got to that point.”
But six months earlier Tina Glory Jordan made the motion to table Jack Baker’s minimum wage increase. And later, when Jack Baker wanted to implement the wage hikes sooner, Councilor Jordan voted against it by saying, “In the kiddy, we have very, very little” and “Our budget is extremely tight.”
After Jack Baker’s amendment was tabled a second time, Jack said “I was disappointed that the act was killed immediately after it was presented by tabling indefinitely without there being any discussion at all on its merits.”
Maybe we all should just be happy the minimum wage was raised regardless of who initiated it and now takes credit. Maybe we should just know this is the nature of power politics and accept it. Or maybe, at times, we can see this type of politics hurts our people who often seem secondary to the process it was meant to serve.
If Jack Baker’s amendment had passed last year, the minimum wage of Cherokee Nation employees would have been raised nine months ago. Today, they would be making $10.50 an hour, not $9.50. And their wages would still be less than the Chickasaw Nation.
Check out the Cherokee Phoenix articles for more details and click on the Cherokee Legistar or Cherokee Nation Youtube to watch the council meetings. Discussion for the issue is brief and both sections are only several minutes long.