By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Tribal employees of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) will soon receive a cost of living adjustment (COLA). During its last session of Annual Council for the year held on Thursday, Oct. 31, Tribal Council approved a 5 percent COLA for EBCI tribal employees which will be awarded in addition to the current merit system of raises.
“We still have a lot of employees that are on the lower end of the pay scale,” said Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley who submitted the legislation (Res. No. 44 – 2019) along with Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe. “We want to be fair across the board, and I think a 5 percent increase would be good.”
Vice Chief Ensley said a COLA raise of this nature costs around $1 million per percentage point.
“I think the employees are worth it,” he noted. “We all call on the tribal employees to do whatever we, as elected officials, need done on a daily basis. The majority of these are enrolled members that we have working. We have around 1,100 employees, and they are the backbone of the Tribe.”
Rep. Crowe made an amendment, which was approved, to include all of Tribal Council on the “submitted by” line of the legislation.
Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle said, “They haven’t gotten a raise since 2013, and I think it’s certainly in line for that. Cost of living does increase every year, and we want to keep up with the cost of living for our employees – the backbone of the Tribe here – for delivering the services that we all expect.”
The legislation calls for EBCI Human Resources to do an annual assessment going forward to see if COLAs are warranted. Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed offered an amendment, which was also approved, that the assessment process also include the EBCI Executive Committee and the EBCI Division of the Treasury. “It’s going to require a joint effort,” he commented.
Wolftown Rep. Chelsea Saunooke inquired, “If someone is at the top of the pay scale, how does this (COLA) come into play?”
EBCI Secretary of the Treasury Cory Blankenship replied, “When an employee meets the maximum for a salary grade, any COLA or merit beyond that is a cash payment.”
Vice Chief Ensley said he is happy that it will not be years between COLAs again. “I think the most important part of the resolution is that HR is going to start doing an annual evaluation so we’ll have this discussion every year going forward with whether or not one needs to be given.”
The resolution was passed, as amended, unanimously by all Tribal Council representatives present (Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell was absent).