Jackson Rancheria announcing raise for hundreds of employees

Jackson Rancheria, operator of one of the region’s major Indian casinos, is giving hundreds of employees a pay raise in one fell swoop.

Amid an improving economy, the Jackson Rancheria Band of Miwuk Indians will announce today that more than 1,100 hourly employees will receive a pay hike. The bulk of the employees will get either 49 cents or 50 cents an hour above their current pay, to a total of $10.60 an hour.

Tribal officials described the decision as more than a pay raise. They said they’re hiking the rancheria’s minimum wage to $10.60 an hour, which they said is the highest of any government or tribal jurisdiction in the United States.

The $10.60 surpasses the $10.55 minimum wage in San Francisco. California’s minimum wage, currently $8, will jump to $9 next July and $10 in January 2016 under a bill signed last month by Gov. Jerry Brown. The tribe isn’t bound by the state’s minimum wage law.

Tribal Chairman Adam Dalton called the pay hike a “thank you for all the hard work” and said it reflects the tribe’s own economic success: “We’re in a situation now where we’re able to do it.” Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort completed an $80 million remodel last fall.

The move is a good business decision that will probably improve morale in an industry where customer service is key, said Michael Bernick, a San Francisco labor consultant and former director of the state Employment Development Department.

“For a minor investment, they’re likely buying a lot of goodwill,” he said. “They’re banking on buying a higher level of service.”

Still, the decision flies in the face of efforts by most employers to put the squeeze on costs in what remains a difficult market for workers, Bernick said.

“Even at their current wages, they can probably attract workers,” Bernick said, referring to the casino’s executives. The decision “is completely against the tide. It runs counter to everything else in the labor market.”

The wage hike could cost the tribe up to $5 million a year in higher payroll, once bonuses and overtime payments are included, said tribal spokesman Doug Elmets.

Unemployment in Amador County has fallen to 9.4 percent, down from 11.4 percent a year ago. It’s still a half-point higher than the statewide average.