Benchmarking compensation for Class A drivers in the Pacific Northwest

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There is a massive CDL driver shortage. Not just in the northwest, but nationwide. This is not new news, however, it’s only getting worse each year and has been particularly exacerbated recently by ELD mandates. 

All of this is to say that experienced CDL A drivers are an incredibly in-demand commodity in 2018, which is creating intense competition amongst OTR, regional, and local outfits. This post examines how that is being reflected in wages & sign on bonuses for local roles throughout the Pacific Northwest.

To generate our findings, we included only those roles which require a Class A CDL license and whose primary responsibility is driving. The figures below represent the maximum available starting base hourly wage & new hire bonus across the Portland and Seattle markets.

What is ‘market’ starting pay for Class A driver?

  • Low: $20.00/hr
  • 25th percentile: $22.50/hr
  • 50th percentile: $24.23/hr
  • 75th percentile:  $25.45/hr
  • High: $30.00/hr

This means that roughly ¼ companies are paying (or attempting to pay) $22.50/hr or less, half of companies are paying above $24.23/hr to start, and ¼ of companies are paying above $25.45/hr.

Screenshot 2018-07-31 12.31.16
A visual depiction of the Class A Driver starting wage distribution across the Portland and Seattle markets.

In addition to the standard hourly compensation, however, because of the intense competition for a limited supply of available drivers, many companies are turning to ‘new hire bonuses’ to woo drivers away from competing companies. These bonuses range from $1,500 to $10,000 (average: $4,300), and are typically paid out over the first 6 months to 1 year of employment.


Screenshot 2018-07-31 12.34.30
A little more than ⅓ of all open Class A Driver roles offer a new hire bonus on top of hourly compensation and benefits.

What does this mean for hiring managers?

In a balanced labor market, one that has an equal supply of and demand for drivers, this would suggest that paying above the 50th percentile ($24.23), with any hiring bonus at all, would put your company in a competitive position to capture the top half of the available driver pool.

Given the shortage, however, it’s hard to find experienced Class A Drivers regardless of compensation offered. To compete in today’s market, we would suggest:

Competitive New Hire Bonus Included: A starting wage of $25/hr of above

No New Hire Bonus Included: A starting wage of $26.50/hr or above

Final Thoughts

At WorkStep, we’re willing to engage with hiring managers & HR teams to source the best available CDL driver matches regardless the compensation package they are able to offer. That said, those partners with more attractive hourly pay and greater new hire bonuses do tend to see the highest quantity and quality of interested drivers from our network.

Finally, even once happily employed, drivers remain aware of how pay is moving in the market and what is being offered elsewhere. In order to retain your best drivers, be sure to continuously re-evaluate whether your team is being compensated in-line with the rest of the market.