Photo cutline: (L to R) Front Row: Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr., Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Health Services Executive Director Connie Davis. Back Row: Human Services Marsha Lamb, Nikara Soap, Career Services Executive Director Diane Kelley, Brandon Scott, Kim Teehee, Chrissi Nimmo and twins James and Mattie, Rebecca Robbins, JeRae Anderson, Rae Wacoche, Waitter Wacoche, Taryn Calico, Brittany Davis, Candace Garcia, Darci McCoy, Kamisha Hair-Daniels, Canaan Duncan and Melinda Cookson.
New policy helps Cherokee Nation remain one of the most progressive employers and employer of choice
TAHLEQUAH, OKLAHOMA — The Cherokee Nation has adopted a more family-friendly policy to provide eight weeks of fully paid maternity leave for female employees of the tribal government.
Seventy percent of Cherokee Nation government employees are women. The new policy promotes healthier Cherokee families and helps the tribe better recruit and retain workers. Before the change, employees were forced to exhaust their accrued sick and annual leave. After that, employees were paid just 60 percent of their salary while on maternity leave.
“This places the Cherokee Nation in the forefront of a much-needed evolution in workforce policies,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “We need modern policies for a modern workforce, and this progressive change will be good for business, for the regional economy, for community health and, most importantly, for Cherokee families. It’s time for the Cherokee Nation to once again be a leader and show our state, other tribal governments and the country our commitment to providing for our talented workforce. This new policy puts us far ahead of Oklahoma government and business entities, and we will be one of the few tribes nationally offering this benefit to employees.”
The new policy went into effect January 1. For mothers to qualify, they must be covered by the Cherokee Nation’s medical insurance and be employed by the tribe for at least a year.
Administrative assistant Candace Garcia is expecting in July. She works in the tribe’s Human Services department and says the new policy will help her focus more on her baby’s health in those first critical weeks of infancy.
“A huge financial burden is now lifted. Instead of getting most of my paycheck, I’ll get all of it,” said the 29-year-old, who is expecting her second child. “I won’t have to save for all those new expenses that come with a baby now and can concentrate on my family, since my pay is fully going to be there.”
Other progressive workplace and health care policies enacted in the last three years include increasing the Cherokee Nation minimum wage and providing more money than ever to health care, funded directly from casino profits.
“I’m proud we’ve raised the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour and invested $100 million of tribal casino profits for new health centers in Jay and Ochelata, more facilities at W.W. Hastings Hospital, and expansions of the Sallisaw and Stilwell health centers,” Chief Baker said.
The tribe was also recently awarded an Indian Health Service Joint Venture Construction project. It will provide at least $20 million in federal funds for health staffing and operation costs, for at least 20 years.