Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Commission Told High Wages, No Right-to-Work Hurting State

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Commission Told High Wages, No Right-to-Work Hurting State

Article excerpt

Oklahoma's relatively high wages and the absence of a right-to-work law are hurting the state's ability to attract outside in dustry, the Oklahoma Economic Development Commission was told on Thursday.

"Our labor costs are high, to a degree, because of the oil boom," Grover Phillips said.

Phillips, director of the industrial division of the Oklahoma Department of Economic Development, briefed the commissioners on feedback he received this week from executives with The Fantus Co. andThe Hart Corp., nationally known plant site selection consultants.

Oklahoma's average wage in 1983 was $9.21 per hour, only 50 cents more per hour than the national average wage of $8.71 per hour, according to the Alexander Grant study released in June.

Walter Allison, a commissioner, asked Phillips what reasons companies are citing when they decide they will not move to Oklahoma.

"The cost of labor is keeping us out of the race right now, but wage surveys don't reflect the latest figures," Phillips said.

Wages in Oklahoma had been lower than the national average before the oil boom began in 1979, Phillips said.

"For four or five years, we were competing violently for employees," he said. "A man without experience could go to work in the oil field for a good salary."

Salaries have stabilized since the boom ended in mid-1982, but many national studies don't reflect that, Phillips said.

A right-to-work law, which bars compulsory union membership, is a top priority for 30 percent to 60 percent of companies looking for relocation or expansion sites, Phillips said.

"It's what they call an automatic knockout," Phillips said. "The man from The Fantus Co. told us that 30 percent of his prospects won't even look at a state that doesn't have a right-to-work law."

An effort to pass a right-to-work law in Oklahoma failed by two votes in the Oklahoma Senate near the end of the 1985 legislative session.

Right to work is expected to be a major issue during the 1986 legislative session, which begins in January.

However, the quality and productivity of Oklahoma's labor force are recognized by industries that have moved here, Phillips said.

"The Hart Co. did an informal survey of 20 companies here and 70 percent said they would consider Oklahoma very favorably for an expansion site," Phillips said.

"They mentioned that quality control is higher in Oklahoma, absenteeism is lower, and productivity of our labor force is very high," Phillips said.

But higher labor costs make it difficult for Oklahoma and the entire U. …

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