This story has been updated.
The entire staff at three different Sonic fast-food drive-in restaurants in Ohio reportedly walked out to protest poor working conditions this past week. According to multiple reports, the walkouts–which happened in the Circleville area–were due to myriad management issues impacting workers. The main catalyst, according to a local ABC channel, was that Sonic corporate bought 10 local franchise locations and was implementing sweeping changes. Two were supposedly being closed while some of the others were being moved.
Meanwhile, former employees told the Scioto Post that longtime managers were being let go as part of the changes. Not only that, but other former employees reportedly said that locations were decreasing wages to $4/hour plus tips (Ohio’s minimum wage is $8.55). I reached out to Sonic for comment on all of this and will update if I hear back. (Update: Sonic disputes that it decreased workers’ wages; see the statement below.)
To put this wage change into perspective, an employee making $4/hour working 40 hours a week brings home only $160 every week. If that person works every week of the year, their annual salary is $8,320. While it’s true that these employees can earn tips–it’s well known that it’s extremely uncommon for fast-food workers to be given even a little extra cash.
At the now-empty restaurants, former staff reportedly left customers a goodbye note:
The entire workforce at the Sonic in Circleville, Ohio just quit en masse to protest their new management and workers least two other Sonics in the area did the same. Check out the lovely note the Circleville workers left. pic.twitter.com/onSNUMImMb
— Eric Blanc (@_ericblanc) February 24, 2019
In a statement to the local press, Sonic admitted that some Ohio locations recently had a management change:
Effective Monday, February 25, eight SONIC Drive-Ins in the Columbus, Ohio market will be under new ownership and management. SRI Operating Company, an affiliate of the SONIC franchisor and operator of SONIC Drive-Ins across the nation, is in the process of purchasing these drive-ins from a franchisee.
Under new management, guests and the community can look forward to improved service and the famous food, beverages and treats for which SONIC is known. Employees working for the local drive-in can look forward to fun, fast-paced work on which they can build a career, if they choose. Most current employees will have the opportunity to continue to work at the drive-in under the new ownership.
The Circleville and Lancaster SONIC Drive-Ins along with others in the market will re-open on Monday morning under new management. We recognize that changes like this can be difficult for employees to understand, but are pleased that most current employees will have the opportunity to continue working at the drive-in.
We look forward to being a part of the community for decades to come and appreciate the opportunity to serve our guests every day.
The fast-food chain has not yet commented on the reported wage reduction.
This is just one example of the poor working conditions fast-food workers face in the United States. There have been increased calls for a national minimum wage of $15/hour, as well as a big push for more workers to unionize. This movement has been happening for years and was started by fast-food workers mobilizing.
Update: Sonic provided me with a statement, which was similar to the one posted above but included the following about workers’ wages:
No wage rates at any level decreased in this transition, although SONIC carhops often receive tips in addition to their wages. Additionally, with the ownership change employees may now have their paycheck direct deposited and general managers are now eligible for a new bonus program. SRI has increased the total number of employees at the eight drive-ins in the Columbus market and will continue to invest in employees, technology and infrastructure at these drive-ins in order to deliver outstanding guest service.