PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – An Oregon House bill that would allow people in the state the option to pump their own gas had its first hearing among lawmakers Tuesday and gas station industry owners and managers shared testimony explaining their strong support of the bill.
HB 4151 would grant customers at gas stations in Oregon the choice to pump their own gas or have an attendant pump it for them. The bill would require the number of self-service pumps to not exceed the number of attended pumps at stations. It would also increase the fine the Oregon State Fire Marshal could issue to gas stations that violate the law from $500 to $5,000.
Bill sponsors say this bill will help gas stations as they struggle to fill open positions. They hope it will prevent customers from waiting in long lines, but still maintain jobs by keeping attendants and offering attendant service to those who want or need it.
Haseeb Shojai, who owns gas stations in Central Oregon testified to the Joint Committee on Transportation at the hearing Tuesday. He said as a business owner and operator of gas stations, the last two years have been challenging.
He said between employee absences and the struggle to hire people, his gas stations haven’t been able to have a set schedule of when they’ll have attendants to pump gas.
“Every week, I see scores of people that stop by one of our gas stations and say this is their third or fourth stop before they found a gas station that was open,” he said.
Shojai said even when they do make it to his gas stations, they’re sometimes waiting 20 to 30 minutes in line before they can get gas, because the attendants are busy.
HB 4151 would also allow the Oregon State Fire Marshal to allow self-service dispensing at gas stations during statewide emergencies. Shojai said this would also be helpful to his business. Sometimes his employees are standing outside for hours in heavy smoke and other times they’re out in freezing temperatures.
He said he does not believe the bill would result in job loss. He said there are other jobs station attendants can take on if they aren’t needed to assist people with gas, like keep store items stocked, make sure filters are cleaned and take out the garbage.
The Oregon Fuels Association, which considers itself the “voice of Oregon’s locally-owned gas stations” also provided testimony stating how helpful this bill would be during the labor shortage.
“From a global pandemic to intense wildfire smoke to a seismic shift in employment, our members’ ability to operate normally is no longer an option and we do not see this situation changing anytime soon. Nearly all businesses have a ‘now hiring’ sign near the front door and yet few, if any, submit applications,” said Gabriel Zirkle, president of the Oregon Fuels Association.
He said allowing self service could keep businesses operating and said Oregon gas stations are in a dire situation and need lawmakers’ help.
Shawn Miller from the Northwest Grocery Association also spoke in favor of the bill. He said the bill will not result in a loss of jobs. It will not require customers to pay more for an attendant and said he is not concerned about fuel spills or an increased risk of accidents because 48 other states allow customers to pump their own gas and do not have regular issues with spills or accidents.
Everyone who provided verbal testimony Tuesday spoke in favor of passing HB 4151. In addition to mentioning how self-serve pumping works well in other states, they also cited counties in Eastern Oregon and on the Oregon coast that have been allowed to let customers pump their own gas since 2015, if they do not have the staff available to offer the service.
Sen. Lew Frederick was the only person to raise concerns about the bill at the hearing. He said while getting gas in other states, he’s seen his elderly relatives struggle to get an attendant to help them pump their gas. He said he’s concerned the penalty that could be imposed on gas stations if they don’t have an adequate number of station attendants relies entirely on complaints. He believes stations will need to be monitored more closely to make sure they’re providing the required service.
In written testimony submitted to the Oregon legislature, the majority say they would like the bill to pass. Those who don’t say Oregonians have voted down the option to pump their own gas in the past. They are afraid lawmakers will alter the bill so that there will be a price difference between self-service and attendant-service and they’re concerned about the effect this change will have on disabled individuals.
Steve Lancaster submitted written testimony opposing the bill. He said he’s disabled and explained he already sometimes has a hard time receiving proper service from attendants at a gas station. He’s worried this bill will leave him to pump his own gas. He said sometimes wheelchair lifts can block traffic in a gas station when it’s lowered from a van and he’s worried what would happen if he dropped his gas cap while fueling his vehicle or the inconvenience of readjusting his vehicle if he doesn’t park in the right spot on the first try.
“You have no idea what it is like, being disabled, alone, after dark, on a cold winter night, and running low on gasoline. You end up planning your whole ‘trip’ around making sure you have enough gas to get to someplace safe with the gas you already have,” he wrote.
Lawmakers who support the bill said they hope having the option of gas pumped by an attendant will still allow elderly people and disabled people equal access to service.
UFCW 555, a union that represents grocery store and gas station employees, along with other workers in Oregon, submitted written testimony saying it is “deeply concerned about the ramifications of this bill for our members and for Oregonians who — due to age or ability — have difficulty pumping their own gasoline.”
The union says that while the bill proposes maintaining a certain level of staffing at gas stations, it represents the first cut in what the union believes is a pathway to the reduction and disappearance of jobs, and a higher risk of spills and accidents. It is also concerned about the potential increased spread of COVID-19 and other viruses that could occur from more people touching the gas pump handles and that this change could allow people to stockpile gas during times of natural disaster or a pandemic.
“Gas attendants are one of many front-line job sectors designated as ‘essential’ during the COVID-19 pandemic. They showed up to work to continue serving our communities at great personal risk. Let’s not ignore their sacrifice by ripping away that designation,” Madison Walters, political liaison of UFCW 555, wrote in submitted testimony.
HB 4151 would require gas stations to clearly label which pumps are self-service and which pumps will provide fuel from an attendant. It also requires the price of fuel for both services to remain the same.
The Oregon State Legislature has not said when the next hearing or session to discuss HB 4151 will take place.