Oklahoma Indian Tribes Raise Minimum Wage

Oklahoma Indian Tribes are the latest group to involve themselves in the national debate over raising the minimum wage.

According to non-profit news organization Oklahoma Watch, many of the state’s tribes have taken it upon themselves to raise minimum wages at businesses owned or operated by the tribes.

Oklahoma Watch reports that many of the state’s tribes have raised minimum wages to federal minimum wages of $10.10 per hour.

The move to increase wages is happening despite the fact that Oklahoma has passed a law banning individual cities from passing their own minimum wage ordinances. Since Indian tribes are sovereign and do not fall under state law, Oklahoma Watch said the laws do not prohibit the tribes from enacting their own minimum wages.

The Cherokee Nation, which employees 8,000 people across northeast Oklahoma, announced earlier this year that it was raising its minimum wage to $9.50, an increase of 50 cents from the tribe’s previous minimum wage, according to Oklahoma Watch.

And while many may associate tribes like the Cherokees with casinos such as the expansive Hard Rock Hotel and Casino that the tribe operates near Tulsa, many tribes also operate health clinics, convenience stores, and a variety of other businesses that could potentially employ minimum wage-earning individuals who would benefit from the increase in hourly wage.

The current minimum wage in Oklahoma is $7.25, the federal minimum wage for many companies. But according to the National Council of State Legislatures, some Oklahoma workers are actually subject to a minimum wage of $2 per hour if certain criteria are met by the company. Seriously, $2 per hour in 2014.

“Employers of ten or more full time employees at any one location and employers with annual gross sales over $100,000 irrespective of number of full time employees are subject to federal minimum wage; all others are subject to state minimum wage of $2.00 (OK ST T. 40 § 197.5),” the council noted.

The move by Indian tribes in Oklahoma comes as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is pushing for a city minimum wage of $13.25 per hour by 2017, and other cities like Seattle have pushed for a rise in minimum wage earnings to $15 per hour.

Robert Reich, a former Clinton administration official and director of the University of California-Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor Employment, told the Los Angeles Times that increasing the minimum wage is good for business.

“There are going to be more workers who are going to want to work for you, and they’re going to stay longer… What I’ve found is that restaurants experience a lot easier time recruiting workers. It reduces the number of vacancies, not jobs.”

[Image via Flickr Creative Commons]