Who’s Pumping Your Gas?

An inside look at the pump jockies of Los Cabos

Getting gas in Mexico takes you back to the old days in the States when there were full service stations. Sure you can pump your own gas, but it’s certainly nice when it’s blazing hot out or you’re just plumb tuckered out to pull in and let the attendant “fill’er up”. But while the gas station attendants are busy getting your gas, did you ever wonder what their job is like? No, probably not, but we’re going to tell you anyway.

Pemex stations work their (mostly) guys eight hour shifts each day and have around eight employees working at all times, with one manager on duty. What, they have managers on property? Who knew? The shifts run from 6 am to 2 pm; 7 am to 3 pm; 2 p.m. to 10 pm; and 3 pm to 11 pm.

gas.JPGTo be hired, employees must, surprisingly, have a high school diploma. Attendants are required to wear a uniform. Pemex employees wear the dark green shirts and pants that have a drab military look. Orsan employees have a trendier style, sporting bright green t-shirts with “Orsan” printed in red letters, and they can wear jeans.

Employees are trained to tell you to look at the pump and notice that it’s starting at zero, which proves you aren’t getting ripped off. Back in the day, paying for gas you didn’t get was the norm.

A gas station attendant earns around $70 USD a week (the amount that most Americans pay for their cable) but the employees get to keep the tips they earn. It used to be customary for Mexicans to leave a tip just for the fill up. However, that has changed over the years, and now the attendant has to earn that tip by offering additional service. People usually give 50 cents to a dollar, which can add up throughout the day. Makes you wonder why some of them don’t work harder to earn a tip, doesn’t it? Like, would it kill them to hit the windshield with a dirty rag? They could double their take home pay.

What justifies a tip in the customer’s mind? Should the attendant get a tip just because he did his job and filled up your tank? Or does he need to go beyond the call of duty to earn that tip? When tourists were asked about tipping, they responded that they tip because they performed the service of filling your tank. But most of the Gringos who live here said they tip if the attendant offers additional service, like checking tire pressure and oil levels and cleaning the windshield.

Now that you know more about how they do their job, we’re going to tell about some of the people who are pumping your gas.

Humberto Luna has worked at Pemex for four years, and he’s a native Cabeno (born in Los Cabos). He’s in his late twenties and married with two daughters. Humberto has a high school diploma and would like to get a bachelor’s degree, but he doesn’t quite know in what. Tips are his main source of income. He works for tips by offering to clean windshields and check the water and oil levels, or tire pressure. On a good day, he can earn up to $20 USD in tips, which is essential given the mediocre salary. Even though he’s outside in the heat all day, Humberto enjoys his job because of his freedom to move around. 

Nancy Jijon works for Orsan and is new to the area. She’s from Guerrero, has a high school diploma and had only been on the job seven days when we interviewed her. Nancy has family here and came to Cabo to find work thinking that life would be better here. However, she’s come to realize that Cabo is expensive and living costs more here than on the mainland.

She’s single and doesn’t mind working in a mostly male environment, saying that the attendants get along well. Nancy works from 12:30 to 10:30 p.m. (Orsan shifts are 10 hours) and has one day off a week. On a typical day, she services 150 to 200 cars. She makes sure to point out that the pump is on zero before filling up your car, and the most important thing to do to earn a tip is to clean the windshield, she said.