OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma Labor Commissioner refuted claims that Oklahomans don’t want to work Thursday as the service, restaurant and hospitality industry suffers from a lack of employees in the state and beyond.

Commissioner Leslie Osborn said the issue of people just not wanting to work isn’t true. In fact, the numbers show when the cannabis industry began in 2018, they quickly attracted service workers with higher pay.

“Our challenge is not to get businesses back open,” Stitt said in May of 2021, when he ended federal unemployment services. “We’ve done that. it’s been getting employees back to work.”

Turns out Oklahomans were working, just not in the businesses that needed help.

“Why wouldn’t they have left to go to somewhere that they can make a better living?” Osborn said.

The state is currently sitting at around a 2.5 percent unemployment rate. However, the service industry is struggling to find employees. Osborn though, said that isn’t because Oklahomans don’t want to apply for the open jobs.

“I think there’s three things that have made it difficult in Oklahoma to fill those jobs,” Osborn said.

Photo goes with story
A “Now Hiring” notice.

Osborn said before the passing of SQ 788 in 2018, no one was legally working in the medicinal marijuana industry. Now an estimated 45,000 workers are making a living at it.

“Nobody seems to correlate those things because it’s very rare for a new industry to plop into your state overnight,” Osborn said.

People are working on farms, in processing facilities and dispensaries with Osborn adding that it’s for better pay. The medicinal marijuana industry starts at about $14 an hour on average. The service industry normally sits around minimum wage.

“We would expect that if it was our family members, wouldn’t we?” Osborn said.

“It appears that the industry in Oklahoma is booming,” said Kelsey Pagonis with the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority.

According to Pagonis, the OMMA as it’s called, has free market rules that are behind almost 9,000 grow operations and around 2,500 dispensaries.

“It was put in place as a free market system,” Pagonis said. “The rules and regulations that have been built upon that are in place to foster this free market system.”

“It’s a challenge,” said Jeff Hopper, the President of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association.

Hopper said 7 percent of workers in the service industry quit their jobs in November alone. That opened over 900,000 jobs nationwide.

“That is reflected in Oklahoma also,” Hopper said. “The jobs are there. It’s hard work, no doubt about it, but the jobs are there, and if you’re willing to work and willing to train then there’s an opportunity.”

Hopper also cited several other reasons for people leaving the service industry. Some have gotten sick or are at home caring for family members or struggling to find childcare. Others have chosen to go back to school or change professions.