Oklahoma among worst states for workers, report found 

State needs policies that increase minimum wage and child care access.

By: - September 6, 2023 5:28 am

Laura Pierre protests in support of a minimum wage increase in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A new report found Oklahoma ranks among the worst states for workers. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) (This image cannot be republished unless you have a subscription to Getty.)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma is one of the worst states for employees, according to an annual analysis from a global group that focuses on ending inequality and poverty.

Oxfam ranked Oklahoma 44th in its Best States to Work Index. The organization considered wages, employee protections and right to organize in compiling its rankings.  

California, Oregon and Washington, D.C., scored highest while Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina were the bottom three. 

The group, meanwhile, suggested raising the federal minimum wage to $17 by 2028. They also pressed for measures that increase child care affordability, expand care for the elderly and disabled, mandate 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave, and legislation to ease union organization. 

Jimmy Curry, president of Oklahoma AFL-CIO, a union advocacy organization, said the report highlights that it’s time to raise the state’s minimum wage and increase union protections for workers.

Public employees, including city, county and state workers, still don’t have the right to unionize, he said. 

The state’s minimum wage, meanwhile, has remained at $7.25 an hour for 14 years, he said. Oklahoma currently follows the federal minimum wage rate, which hasn’t changed since 2009. More than two dozen states this year increased hourly wages, including Washington which set its rate at $15.74.

Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn, a Republican, also said the report indicates that it’s time to raise the minimum wage. 

“It is the longest in U.S. history that we have ever gone without raising the minimum wage,” Osborn said in an email. “It is often utilized as a baseline for other low wage jobs. Many states have raised theirs on that level, Oklahoma shows no sign of such a move.”

But state Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, said he disagreed with the rankings and contends Oklahoma is a good place to work.

McDugle, who chairs a House business committee, said the state allows workers and businesses to make their own decisions about policies like unions and wages.

“I think Oklahoma does a great job,” McDugle said. “I haven’t read the report, and I’ve not seen how they rate everyone on those things, but I believe we shouldn’t mandate those anyway. Let the employers take care of that. That’s why we’re a free state and freedom means something in Oklahoma.”

Increasing minimum wage to $15 would mean some employers could not afford to hire employees, he said.

McDugle said as the unemployment rate remains low, employers must increase wages to be competitive.

He also said employees are free to organize.

“If employees want to be part of a union, they’re more than welcome.”

The same report also included rankings of the best states for working women. Oklahoma ranked 32nd. Oregon scored the best and North Carolina ranked the worst. 

Oxfam’s report for working women used the same three categories for overall workers, but discovered that 69% of wage earners who rely on tips are women.

To calculate the union protections score, the report examined teachers’ rights because it is the largest category of public workers. The report found 76% of teachers are women.

State Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, said 32nd is not good enough. He’s co-authored legislation seeking to raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour.

“It’s better numbers, but certainly we can do better,” he said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

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Mindy Ragan Wood
Mindy Ragan Wood

Mindy covers the legislature for Oklahoma Voice. Her areas of focus include infrastructure, municipal government policies, and human services with an emphasis on the needs of intellectually vulnerable and physically challenged adults.