By Jacob Sturm
Mustang Chamber members received valuable insight as part of an organized gathering inside the Mustang Town Center on June 22.
Oklahoma Labor Commissioner, and former Mustang state representative, Leslie Osborn made an appearance at the Mustang Chamber luncheon where she shared her thoughts on numerous issues impacting the state to the Mustang audience’ benefit.
“We’re at record-low unemployment rates,” Osborn said. “We’re hovering at around 2-3% in
Oklahoma. That’s almost full employment. We have in Oklahoma City as low as 1.5% in the last six months. We don’t have enough warm bodies to fill jobs.”
Osborn identified four shortages: aerospace, medical, teachers and labor shortage in the
trades. She said aerospace jobs are available due to the number of bases in the area and the proximity to those bases in the state.
As for teaching shortages, Osborn said the reason for the issues revolves around not paying
“You can all say ‘oh, they get two months off in the Summer’,” Osborn said. “How many parents enjoy doing the chrome books with their kids during COVID? It’s a tough job, and teachers don’t only know their subject matter, but they also learn things with their bachelor’s degree that teach them how to teach… In Oklahoma, when you walk out the door with a bachelor’s degree in education, you automatically make 32% less than any other bachelor’s program. People have student debt, it’s hard to make a living and so we just don’t pay them enough.”
Oklahoma’s legislature did provide some pay raises this year, but Osborn said there is still a
long way to go.
She also touched on the issues demeaning teachers happening around the country. She
implored the Mustang audience to stand up for teacher’s in the community when they hear
stories about indoctrination in schools.
“I really don’t think there’s a more honorable or important profession in the United States than what we do as educators,” Osborn said.
Osborn also said she has put in the most work for the shortages in jobs involving the trades. She said the issues started in the George H. W. Bush administration, and referenced his first State of the Union when he mentioned every kid in America would go to college.
So, what happened to help address this? Osborn said an emphasis on adding Shop Class back
into schools through an Oklahoma City PS bond issue and working with a connection with a
superintendent is aiming to help implement introducing more trade careers to students.
Osborn also mentioned groups of people who may be underutilized in the workforce: Women
of child-bearing years, immigrants, and people in second-chance programs.
“Over half of our counties are deemed childcare deserts,” Osborn said. “That means only one
slot available for every 10 that are needed. So, if a young mother, a woman of child-bearing
years, has nowhere to take her children and she’s at work, we’re losing them in the job
“One thing we’ve really encouraged at the state capitol this year is subsidizing daycare because it’s a critical need,” Osborn said.
The Oklahoma Department of Labor has 80 employees and ensures safe workplaces and the
wages are paid.
“Last year, we brought in a little over a million dollars in back wages, but the average claim was only $850,” Osborn said. “… One pay check can be the difference in not being evicted from your apartment, not having your car repossessed, not putting food on the table for your family.”
Also, Osborn’s department conducts safety checks for amusement parks, elevators across the
state and more. Osborn reiterated the work done is taken seriously.
Osborn closed her speech with encouraging people to turn off the national news television
shows, and instead make the world a better place.
“We have to get back to a time when we can agree to disagree, when we don’t just hate on the
other party, where we don’t hate everybody that doesn’t look like us, worship like us or love
like us,” Osborn said. “That’s not government’s job… We have to get back to the basics of what we are supposed to be doing and be civil and kind and get along, or we’re not going to have a country left to leave our kids and grandkids.”