Oregon Employers Will Put Thousands of Dollars in Your Pocket if You Get Hired

We looked for the most enticing listings in Oregon. What we found reflected the industries most anxious to hire.

Oregon employers are getting desperate.

In October, 56,000 Oregonians quit their jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s 3% of the state’s workforce—and a higher rate than the rest of the nation, which just set its own record for resignations.

Workers looked at a reopened state and realized they have options. They’re taking them. The same stores that ran out of toilet paper during one chapter of the pandemic are now without clerks to stock it.

“The tight labor market is impacting all industries,” says state economist Josh Lehner. “It’s hard to find accountants. It’s hard to find movie concession stand workers. It’s hard to find anybody.”

Like contestants on The Bachelorette frantic for attention, Oregon companies are making extraordinary offers to lure replacements for the employees they lost. The most conspicuous? Signing bonuses: cash up front as an incentive to take a job.

That means they’ll pay you today for work you do tomorrow.

Lehner started seeing such bonuses last fall, mostly at restaurants that needed line cooks. Now the practice has expanded across dozens of industries—and it isn’t a cheap substitute for higher wages, but piled on top of pay hikes.

“Human nature is, we do like those bright shiny objects we can touch,” Lehner says. “We would like a thousand dollars in our pockets next month. Whatever it takes to bring workers through the door, I think the firms are trying it.”

WW spent a few days this month on Indeed, Ziprecruiter and other job-hunting sites, looking for the most enticing listings in Oregon. What we found reflected the industries most anxious to hire.

Here’s what you can get in addition to the job offer.

Commercial truck driver: Upwards of $30,000

In the fall, the American Trucking Associations announced a historic shortage of 80,000 drivers nationwide. That has a butterfly effect throughout the economy, because it exacerbates the national supply chain crisis.

“The industry is raising pay at five times the historic average, but this isn’t just a pay issue,” ATA chief economist Bob Costello said in October. The shortage is most acute among long-haul drivers, who are aging, mostly male and have to spend days at a time on the road.

Portland-area trucking companies are offering signing bonuses ranging from $3,000 to $30,000—and that’s in addition to an average hourly wage of $23, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The US Foods outpost in Woodburn is offering a $22,500 sign-on bonus, as well as relocation assistance for eligible new hires. “Conveniently Located near PDX Airport,” the job posting says. “Top performers can make up to $27.10/hour plus incentives.”

The Portland division of the U.S. Xpress trucking company is offering even more: $30,000. “Drive the newest 2019-2020 trucks!” the posting says. “Hazmat Teams earn $150 Extra per Hazmat load.”

Portland police officer: Upwards of $25,000

The Portland Police Bureau has been steadily hemorrhaging officers since June 2020, when nightly racial justice protests began and the City Council voted to cut the bureau’s budget by $15 million. The Police Bureau says it currently has 97 sworn-officer and 60 professional staff vacancies.

In response to that shortage, the city’s police union has advocated hiring 800 sworn police officers over the next five years. But even if the city could fund the hiring of that many new recruits, it still faces an uphill battle getting candidates to apply in the first place.

That’s why, in November, Mayor Ted Wheeler proposed that the city offer $25,000 sign-on bonuses for the first 50 qualified PPB officers or public safety specialists, known as PS3s.

At the time of the proposal, the mayor acknowledged the city needs to tick several boxes before it can officially offer such bonuses. “It will likely require [City] Council approval, and there are probably some legal issues that need to be hashed out as well,” Wheeler said in November.

Former Mayor Sam Adams, who is the director of strategic innovations in Wheeler’s office, says the city is still working out the details of the bonuses, such as the number of recruits who will get them and the amount.

“The key there is ‘up to’ $25,000,” Adams tells WW. He adds that seeing the Seattle Police Department offer $25,000 sign-on bonuses last year was a “wake-up call” for the city of Portland to be as competitive as possible in order to attract the best candidates in the Pacific Northwest.

Nurse: $10,000

It’s no secret that health care is a risky and difficult profession as the state enters its third COVID surge.

By 2026, Oregon could have a shortage of 1,000 registered nurses and 31,000 lower-wage health care workers like medical assistants and home health aides, according to research conducted last year by the human resources firm Mercer.

“In Oregon, we were looking at a shortage, but a manageable shortage. Nationally, we were looking at a big shortage, but coronavirus has turned our small shortage into a big shortage, and the national shortage into a giant chasm,” says Kevin Mealy, spokesman of the Oregon Nurses Association.

Factors driving the shortage include burnout and retirements, Mealy says. To combat it, some Oregon hospitals are offering cash up front.

Providence, for example, is advertising $10,000 hiring bonuses for multiple positions, including an opening for a registered nurse fellow in Medford. Job postings for Swedish Health Services advertise an $8,000 hiring bonus for a night-shift registered nurse position in the maternity unit in Seaside, and $10,000 for a registered nurse to work in the rehab and long-term care unit at the hospital’s Mount Angel location.

Mealy says this is a new phenomenon, and it’s partly a response to the recent proliferation of travel nurses, who can earn up to $5,000 more a week for temporary gigs than their permanent counterparts.

“For your rank-and-file nurse, hiring bonuses were not the norm pre-pandemic,” Mealy says. “These hiring bonuses are an attempted Band-Aid, but they’re often ineffective. What I would urge hospitals to do is to first look at retention bonuses. I think the best and most important nurse you could have tomorrow is the nurse you have today.”

Sawmill worker: $3,000

Among the peculiarities of Oregon’s job crunch: Companies that stock things—think warehousers like Walmart and Amazon—are poaching workers from businesses that make things.

Lehner says the employment shift is a result of warehousing jobs paying $2 an hour more than their manufacturing counterparts. It doesn’t hurt that Amazon will reimburse the costs of college tuition for its hourly employees.

That explains why Vancouver, B.C.-based lumber giant Interfor will pay a $3,000 signing bonus—in increments over a year—to entice a worker to its sawmill in Molalla (“a 45-minute commute from Portland,” the posting notes). That’s exactly the same bonus Amazon is offering recruits.

What’s the job, exactly? Among the duties are “shoveling wet and dry sawdust” and monitoring the mill so it doesn’t catch fire.

TriMet bus driver: $2,500

On Jan. 10, TriMet reduced the frequency of service on 20 of its 84 bus lines. That’s because, on any given day, Portland’s regional transit agency is 45 bus drivers short of the 970 it needs behind the wheel.

“Forty-five operators would bring us back to the baseline,” says TriMet spokeswoman Tia York. “But in our current COVID climate, some people are taking off work because they feel sick, or they have a child who’s sick. So many factors could erode that number.”

Driving buses is a job requiring a lot of personal contact with people who can’t afford to remain encased in their own car. It pays $68,000 a year—and now comes with a $2,500 signing bonus at the front end. A commercial driver’s license isn’t a prerequisite: TriMet will pay for training and testing.

The famed Portland custom of thanking bus drivers might also help with recruiting—if that appreciation doesn’t dissipate while waiting longer for the bus. “I understand that people want to vent to the next bus driver who does show up,” York says. “We totally get it. We’re just asking people to continue to show kindness and compassion to bus operators.”

Blazers concessions cook: $500

Federal figures show most employees who quit their jobs this winter worked in hospitality and other low-paying fields. That helps explain why restaurants across Portland—from Mother’s Bistro downtown to a Starbucks drive-thru in Hazelwood—are unexpectedly closed during typical business hours, as Omicron further reduces staffing.

Little wonder that a $500 hiring bonus has become the industry standard offer for Portland cooks. Pine State Biscuits is offering it. So is Elephants Delicatessen. McMenamins will double that.

Some employers don’t just want to hire—they want commitment. Take the case of Levy Restaurants, the contractor that runs concessions at two Portland stadiums, Moda Center and Providence Park. Levy is offering the standard $500 bonus to flip burgers. But it will also add a “stay bonus”: an additional $2.75 an hour, delivered in a lump sum, if a cook stays through the end of the Blazers season.

Expect the crunch to last longer than that. “The tight labor market is here to stay,” Lehner says. “We’ve got a lot of baby boomers retiring for the next decade. We are seeing tremendous wage gains—particularly at the lower end of the spectrum.”

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