Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, Oregon gas station owners are calling for a temporary suspension of the state law banning self-service fueling. Labor unions and firefighters think that’s a bad idea. Both camps claim to have the public’s best interest at heart.
Lobbyists with the Oregon Fuels Association – a group that represents most of the gas-station owners in the state – communicated their request to the governor’s office last week. They assert in their statement that fuel outlets are suffering a labor shortage, stating, “Many gas attendants are unable to come to work either due to sickness, access to child care issues (with children at home), as well as the plethora of other issues people are facing right now.” The thrust of the argument is that unless customers are allowed to pump their own gas, Oregonians will have no way to refuel their vehicles.
Union response: Dan Clay of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 555 isn’t having it. He thinks that station owners are trying to use the COVID panic to cut costs during a time when fewer people are driving due to social distancing. He also notes that if gas stations were really concerned about the spread of disease, they’d want as few people touching the pumps as possible.
Firefighters agree with labor: Karl Koenig of the Oregon State Fire Fighters Council agrees. In testimony to the Joint Special Committee on Coronavirus Response, Koenig worried that a switch to self-service could divert first responders from other work: “Imagine a high-volume fuel stop backing up into the street while a one of our valued citizens gathers a crowd of people to help fuel their vehicle, going in a complete opposite direction of the governor’s social distancing directive.”
Negotiations as to whether to temporarily lift the ban are ongoing, and the governor’s office is weighing the evidence.
By Peter Bask