Gas Station Employment, Still Fueling Eastern Oregon

by Christopher Rich

May 29, 2019

Gas stations in nearly all Eastern Oregon counties have been able to offer self-service 24 hours a day for a little over a year now. This came about through legislation that took effect in January 2018. With a population double the 40,000 resident threshold, Umatilla is the only county in the region that doesn’t meet the self-service criteria. Baker, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Morrow, Union, and Wallowa, however, are free to let folks pump their own.
Gas station employment for the seven self-serve counties grew quite a bit over the past decade. Total employment was 608 in 2006 and by 2017 employment reached 857: a gain of 41 percent. Union and Wallowa saw no growth during this period, but growth was relatively large for the remaining counties. Much of this growth was due to new operations. Employment in the gas station industry accounted for 2.1 percent of all jobs for the seven counties in 2017. Over the past year employment in the industry nudged down a smidge, dipping to 839 and 2.0 percent of all jobs in 2018.

Morrow County showed the largest loss, shedding 10 jobs for a 6.3 percent decrease in industry employment. Four stations in the county recorded no loss while two stations picked up one or two workers. Both Grant and Wallowa counties were just a few jobs lighter in 2018. The losses, however, account for roughly 10 percent of the industry’s total employment in the two counties. Losses in Baker, Malheur, and Union were almost unnoticeable from an industry size standpoint. Harney County went the other way and added seven jobs. Overall, losses accounted for a 2.1 percent decrease in the seven county area. It’s tough to say whether this was from small cuts due to the self-serve revolution, or if the loss was due to natural industry fluctuations. One pattern emerged for most counties at the firm level; a few truck stops each shed several workers in 2018. These losses didn’t necessarily manifest at the industry level, because some smaller employers, as well as a couple of other truck stops, increased employment during the year.

While the legislation created an opportunity for gas stations to offer self-service, it didn’t make it a requirement. One gas station may pull back on full-service to save on costs while a competitor may try to attract customers by increasing their level of full-service. The legislation also stipulates that if a gas station is part of a retail establishment that sells products such as snacks, food, and beverages then the gas station must have an employee available for full-service between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. The way individual firms react to the law will likely be more apparent over time. As for the change from 2017 to 2018, total gas station employment in the seven county area was little changed.

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