Tribal Government & News

Tribe distributes premium pay to government employees

11.09.2021 Dean Rhodes Tribal employees

By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde distributed $6.2 million in premium pay wages to its approximately 600 governmental employees on Friday, Nov. 5.

“We’re happy to announce that the Tribe is issuing premium pay wages to all those in the Tribal government whose hard work, dedication and flexibility has allowed the Tribe to continue services and expand programming to Tribal members and the Grand Ronde community over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Tribe announced on its webpage

The American Rescue Plan Act, which was passed into law in March of this year, stipulates that premium pay wages can be awarded to employees who worked and contributed throughout the course of the pandemic that began in mid-March 2020 because the employees faced a greater risk of exposure.

The Grand Ronde Tribe received $27.544 million in American Rescue Plan funds in May and another $23.547 million in August, bringing the Tribe’s total payment to more than $51 million. In 2020, the Tribe also received $45.56 million in CARES Act funding.

The Treasury Department issued guidance in May that stated American Rescue Plan funds should be used for public health response, water, sewer and broadband infrastructure and premium pay for essential workers “who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical infrastructure sectors.”

The Tribal announcement said that the Tribe’s executive staff worked closely with department managers to determine the appropriate premium pay level for every governmental employee and calculated the premium pay accordingly.

Based on the amounts received by Smoke Signals staff members, employees received anywhere from $15,000 for those who averaged 32 hours or more a week in the office to $1,750 for those who primarily worked from home during an 18-month period that began in mid-March 2020.

“Whether they’re one of our dedicated clinic staff working on the frontlines, someone interacting with Tribal members to provide services, processing emergency or COVID-19 relief payments for Tribal members or a temperature check station employee, this service has been invaluable and the Tribe wanted to recognize that effort,” the statement said.

The premium pay sparked debate on social media by Tribal members who primarily criticized Tribal Council members for reportedly receiving $20,000 each in premium pay.

Tribal Council members defended providing and receiving premium pay during the Tuesday, Nov. 9, Legislative Action Committee meeting.

Tribal Council member Lisa Leno said the premium pay amounted to about 6 percent of the federal funds received by the Tribe during the pandemic. “This was always about our employees,” she said, adding that Tribal Council members did not participate in determining the premium pay tiers, the amount of premium pay and where they individually fell in the tier structure. “It was about our wanting to show our appreciation for our employees and thank them for the tremendous sacrifices that they have made for our people for the last year and a half.”

Tribal Council member Denise Harvey defended, at times emotionally, her colleagues for diligently working to ensure the Grand Ronde Tribe received its fair share of federal funds that were distributed through 2020’s CARES Act and this year’s American Rescue Plan Act.

“Historically, we have this time and it’s one of the first times ever that we have been equally included in those funds,” Harvey said. “It was a lot of work. Tribal leaders had a certain responsibility that they had to do. … This council did everything they could to ensure that not only us, but Indian Country was going to get the benefits that we were allowed.”

Tribal Council member Kathleen George said that Tribal Council has been focused on helping the membership and employees during the pandemic.

“It seemed like a narrative that was trying to be developed was this was something about Tribal Council trying to get something,” George said. “I just want to assure the membership that throughout this entire pandemic, over 18 months now, Tribal Council has been 100 percent focused on supporting our people … and our people also includes our employees. … Did the people on Tribal Council receive some benefits? We did, so I guess we’re guilty of that, but we’re also guilty of putting the people first and that’s what this effort had really been all about.”

Tribal Council Secretary Michael Langley said that Spirit Mountain Casino employees were not eligible to receive the premium pay funded through the American Rescue Plan Act. However, casino employees received $1,300 bonuses on Oct. 29, as well as continued to receive wages during the casino’s 74-day closure that occurred between March and May 2020.

“It is about the employees, and not about us,” Langley said.

The statement said that the Tribe also has distributed more than $37 million in direct payments to Tribal members, including eight monthly payments that were sent between April and November 2020 to help offset financial hardships caused by the pandemic, and started more than $5.7 million in new programs to help Tribal members during the pandemic.

A frequently asked questions posted at stated that Tribal members have received almost 38 percent, or $8,400 per adult Tribal member, of all federal pandemic funds received by the Tribe while employees received slightly more than 6 percent.

One ramification of receiving premium pay, however, means that Tribal employees will not receive the usual Christmas bonus this year. “We used that budget to ensure all employees were included in some level of premium pay,” General Manager David Fullerton said.