Published On: Fri, Apr 10th, 2020

Proposed resolution seeks equity in emergency pay

 

By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR

 

Resolution number 173 (2020), submitted by Wolfetown Representative Bo Crowe, seeks to bring matching reductions in tribal pay to include elected officials of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI).

The legislation states, “Whereas the EBCI Tribal Council possesses the authority to adopt laws and regulations and to manage all real and personal property belonging to the Tribe;

And whereas the EBCI Tribal Council is the Tribe’s legislative leaders

And whereas the EBCI Tribal employees are subject to a fifteen percent pay cut during this COVID 19 stay at home order;

And whereas, as Tribal leaders we, Executive and Legislative, should set the example for the Tribal employees and take a fifteen percent pay cut during this COVID 19 stay at home order.

Now therefore be it resolved by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Tribal Council assembled at which a quorum is present that the Executive Committee, Tribal Council, and all political appointees shall have a fifteen percent pay cut during this COVID 19 stay at home order.”

The resolution was brought in as an emergency during the Thursday, April 9 specially-called Tribal Council session. This session was ordered by Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed to address economic development concerns resulting from business closures and fiscal impact from the closing of the tribal borders. 

Rep. Crowe expressed his concern over a plan to reduce benefit for tribal employees currently receiving 40 hours per week in “emergency sick leave” or administrative leave to compensate them for hours that they are unable to work during the stay-at-home executive order precipitated by the COVID-19 outbreak. He said, for him, it was a question of fairness and a matter of everyone equally sharing the load. 

Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha (Cherokee County/Snowbird Community) said, “Any Council member who wishes to cut their hours back to 68 hours a pay period are more than welcome to volunteer to do that. I don’t think a resolution should dictate to any Council member because I don’t know of any of you all’s financial statuses. I don’t know how many hours you all are working. I am probably surpassing 80 hours a pay period. And, I don’t have a way to accrue that leave back like employees do. This is not anything that this Tribal Council or anybody wanted (speaking of the circumstances resulting from COVID 19).” 

He said that he was opposed to it because he feels that Council members should be working full-time because that is what they were elected to do. 

Rep. Crowe explained that he intends to continue to work full time and fulfill his responsibilities, but personally is taking the reduction regardless of how the Council acted on the resolution. He acknowledged that all Council members were probably exceeding 80 hours in the work that they do. Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke echoed Rep. Crowe in saying she would continue to work, but would be taking the reduction personally. 

Cory Blankenship, EBCI Secretary of Treasury, provided an explanation of how the reduction in the benefit would impact accrued annual and sick leave of employees. “An entry level employee accrues leave at a rate of eight hours per pay period, four annual and four sick leave hours. By pulling the admin leave down to 68 hours, and having eight hours of leave in that pay period, a balance of four hours of leave would need to come from the employees accrual account.” 

He went on to say that if employees were called back into work by the Tribe, that those hours could also be used to fill in the gap between 68 and 80 hours. 

Vice Chairman David Wolfe (Yellowhill Community) made a move to table. He felt that this resolution needs more analysis before a decision should be made. “If the employees are not using anything and the Tribe is just reducing its liability, I think this needs more research.” 

Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle agreed with Vice Chairman Wolfe. He said that the feedback he had received from employees were that they were thankful for the way the pay had been administered. 

Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell stated that he would be okay with taking a pay cut if he could direct the funds where he felt they were needed. “I’d like to be in charge of where that cut goes. I know that there are families suffering here. I know that there are many who have several kids and work at fast food restaurants and things of that nature. When the employees come to that point, I’ll take the pay cut too. But, I would like to determine where it goes.” He stated he supported the Vice Chairman’s move to table as well. 

Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose also spoke in favor of being able to direct any funds resulting in a pay cut personally and his support of the Vice Chair’s move. 

Ten members of Council voted in favor of tabling the resolution for discussion. Rep. Crowe and Painttown Rep. Dike Sneed were the two dissenting votes. 

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