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ON employees picket outside Congress chambers for Merit pay

Congresswoman Shannon Edwards withdraws her amendment to cut funding for the Executive Branch’s FY 2012 Merit Pay for Performance bonus
An Osage Nation employee holds up a sign in protest to a proposed amendment by Congresswoman Shannon Edwards she later withdrew Sept. 29. Photo by Chalene Toehay/Osage News

Osage Nation employees got their way Sept. 29 when Congresswoman Shannon Edwards withdrew an amendment to cut Executive Branch funding for Merit Pay for Performance for fiscal year 2012.

About 20 protesters showed up with signs outside the Osage Congressional Chambers before the session started that read: “Don’t Be Square Be Fair!”; “We Voted You In – But Not Again!”; “You don’t Merit My Vote!”; and many more.

The proposed amendment Edwards withdrew was to strike the entire funding to the more than 500 employees of the Executive Branch for the Merit Pay for Performance bonus for the FY 2012 year.

Edwards stressed that she was in favor of the Merit bonus, and that she fully intended to propose a bill to fund it in March during the Congressional Hun-Kah Session, but her concern was that since the Executive Branch had not developed any policies and procedures to implement Merit she was hesitant.

“What we have not seen is the detail of the bonus program,” Edwards said during the Sept. 29 congressional session.

“A year ago, we passed [the Merit law],” said Congressman Geoffrey Standing Bear. “A whole year and it hasn’t been implemented.”

Standing Bear went on to say that even though the Executive Branch hasn’t developed their policies and procedures he thinks it should be funded so they can begin to develop those procedures, and Congressman Raymond Red Corn agreed.

“I say fund it,” Congressman Red Corn said. “Fund it thoroughly and hold [the Executive Branch’s] feet to the fire to get it implemented.”

Some of the protesters were indignant because the day before the Second Osage Nation Congress passed the funding for their own branch’s Merit Pay for Performance bonus for FY 2011, which means the Congressional employees will receive their Merit bonus Oct. 1 of this year. According to the Merit law, each branch of government implements their own Merit Pay for Performance bonus for their employees.

Currently, the Osage Congress has three employees.

“Theoretically, taken to an extreme, a few people could get huge bonuses, some people could get small bonuses, and some people could get nothing – and that’s what I wanted in writing,” Edwards told the Osage News. “How about doing it first and then funding it.

Edwards said that Congress reinstated the bonuses for the Chief’s Office, which was $13,000, and worst-case scenario, since there’s no policy in place, one person could receive half of that or more. She said it’s the same situation with the Merit bonus funding for the employees, which is a total of $600,000. There’s no policy of how it’s going to be paid and the rules could change midstream, she said.

“Some people think I’m against the employees but really I’m trying to protect them. I don’t think anyone will be happy if someone gets $10,000 and they don’t get anything,” she said. “Not saying that’s going to happen, but the best practice is to get it in writing.”

Congresswoman Alice Goodfox said that what most people don't know is that the Executive Branch never submitted their budget for the Merit bonuses for their employees, "therefore there was nothing to vote on regarding a bonus structure for Executive employees and departments." Goodfox said the legislative and judicial branches submitted their budgets, with a bonus structure, and the Congress passed both branches Merit bonuses Sept. 29.

Raises still on for Oct. 1

There are two components to the Merit Pay for Performance. The first is what Congress calls “the bump.” This includes the raises some employees will be receiving to raise their salaries to market rates, including an education bonus. Some employees will receive “the bump” Oct. 1 of this year.

What Edwards proposed to cut was the second component to Merit, the funding for the end of the year Merit bonuses for FY 2012.

Edwards said there was plenty of time to fund the Merit bonuses for next year during the Congressional Hun-Kah Session in March of 2012. She wanted to see the Executive’s policies and procedures by then.

“I think these people should get a bonus of 1 to 3 percent and they should be able to look in their [Human Resources] manual and see they are entitled to a 1 to 3 percent bonus,” she said during the Congressional session, which drew sighs and angry comments by attendees.

Edwards withdrew her amendment to cut the Merit bonus funding which prompted smiles and an enthusiastic “Yes!” from Executive Branch Director of Operations Deidre Bigheart.

Delary Walters, who is the Executive Director of the Nation’s Human Resources Department and who compiled all of the market rate salaries and education bonuses, began to cry. She is the former Compensation Analyst and was promoted Sept. 28.

Don’t Be Square Be Fair!

Employees started showing up with their signs outside of the Congressional chambers around 8:30 a.m.

The night before, Jennifer Tiger, the director for the Office of Strategic Planning and Grants Management and some others, got the word out to employees to picket by word of mouth, text and facebook.

“I think that, as a lot of people know, that communication up here is stifled, and there’s not a lot of trust, and in order to have trust you have to have free and open communication and we’ve seen, in various forms, everything from gag orders to no gag orders, to congress members not coming and even just visiting with programs, so there’s no communication up here and that has to change,” Tiger said at the protest. “How do we do that, we’re kind of doing these ways to get communication across, to voice our opinion because a lot of times we feel like we might be in the middle getting batted around between the branches and we just again, we want jobs, we want to provide for our family, we want to provide services for Osage citizens and if we have to resort to these types of protests or voicing our opinion in this way – that might be all we have right now.”

A couple of congress members came out and invited the protestors in.

Most of the congress members laughed when they saw the protestors. The Osage Nation Police Department was called in and Congressman Raymond Red Corn jokingly said, “We’ve got the Osage finest here to protect us.”

The protesters shouted “Be fair, be fair, be fair…” and “No joke, no vote, no joke, no vote…” while holding up their signs making a circle in front of the chambers.

At one point, protesters started yelling, “Get Shannon Edwards! Get Shannon Edwards! Get Shannon Edwards!”

All but two protestors were female employees. Cory Spotted Bear, who works for the Osage Gaming Commission, was there to watch the protest and offer his support.

“I think its equality. I think everyone should have the same, they should be fair to their employees, most of their [campaign] slogans were saying, when they were voted in, that they were ‘here for the Osage people,’ and a lot of employees are Osage members, and how it seems now and what they haven’t passed…” he said. “I think they’re not here for us, they’re not living up to what they said they were going to, so I’m here mainly because I think fairness, we deserve it. We all are hardworking employees, we do what we’re supposed to do and we’re good at it. Fairness is why I’m here, they should be fair.”

Osage News Reporter Sunnie Clahchischiligi contributed to this report.

[Editor's Note: This story was updated for clarification on Sept. 29.]

For more photos visit the Osage News flickr page at http://www.flickr.com//photos/osagenews/show/

Location

Osage Nation Congressional Chambers
813 Grandview
Pawhuska, OK
United States