Valvoline purchases local Einstein’s chain; former employees complain of lower pay offer, non-compete

Posted at 9:53 AM, Nov 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-05 11:53:16-05

MERIDIAN, Idaho — This article was written by Margaret Carmel of BoiseDev.

Meridian-based Einstein’s Oilery is under new ownership, and former employees say the transition is not going smoothly.

National automobile service chain Valvoline closed on its sale of Einstein’s Oilery and its 12 Treasure Valley locations on Oct. 30. The company said it would rebrand the locations in the coming months. Valvoline entered the market when it purchased the former Oil Can Henry’s locations. This is part of its acquisition of 33 quick-lube service centers in Idaho, Missouri and Kansas.

Since the acquisition last week, recently let go employees say more than half of the company’s over 100 employees quit due to lower pay offered than under the original owners and objections to a strict non-compete agreement.

Valvoline did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

[A month after purchase, Saltzer’s new owner will merge to form larger healthcare system]

Einstein’s Oilery co-founder Michael Meuret said he chose to sell to Valvoline after the Kentucky-based company approached them a second time. He said he was unaware of any offers Valvoline gave to employees after the sale. Meuret said Valvoline told them they wanted to retain as many existing employees as possible. He called the sale bittersweet after 13 years in the Treasure Valley.

“The timing seemed right, especially given a tumultuous year and selling to Valvoline seemed to afford us and our people the opportunity we’d always wanted for them,” Meuret said. “It afforded us the ability to depart from our people on good terms with the sale proceeds being Vavoline was the buyer would be substantial enough that we could provide significant bonuses to all of our team members.

Objections to pay and non-compete

Four former employees told BoiseDev Valvoline went back on promises of equal pay and benefits when ownership changed. They said Valvoline required employees to sign a non-compete agreement, which would prevent them from working for a business where oil changes are performed within 100 miles for a year. Jake Pinson, a former area supervisor with Einstein’s 12 years, said Valvoline rescinded a job offer on Oct. 31.

Pinson said Valvoline offered him and others pay and benefit packages tens of thousands of dollars less than their package with Einstein’s Oilery. He said employees asked for the company to keep wages at the same and to remove the non-compete, but said Valvoline then told him he would not join the company.

“We wanted them to remove the heavily unreasonable non-compete so our lives wouldn’t be completely ruined after becoming experts in the field like we have been if we didn’t like working for Valvoline,” Pinson said.

The agreement Valvoline asked employees to sign also moved jurisdiction of any legal action against workers violating the agreement to a court in Valvoline’s home state of Kentucky. Several employees said if the company sued over the non-compete, they could not afford to travel to appear at the proceedings.

Longtime employees left the company

Michael Cantrell, a former Einstein’s Oilery store manager, said Valvoline didn’t hire him after he refused to sign the non-compete agreement. He called the agreement an “unnecessary leash” on employees considering the lower wages offered.

“I understand a non compete when you’re talking a really high-end paying job, but we’re talking about a lube industry,” Cantrell said. “We’re not talking about making 6 or 7, 8 figures.”

Former Einstein’s Oilery Area Supervisor Rafael Gutierrez, who worked with Einstein’s since 2008, said Valvoline asked him and other supervisors to work for them in the dals before the sale closed. Then, he came to work on Oct. 31 and was told his offer letter was rescinded and he was never hired with the company.

“I’ve helped open every single store, set up every single store,” he said. “I was the store manager of the Overland location for many, many years. To see the employees and our management group get let go like that, it was sad to see that.”