Among the daily headlines is talk about the labor shortage that is bedeviling many businesses across the U.S. Shares on social media that discuss a struggle to find workers, or the mismatch between jobs available and the work many people are seeking, are often followed by snark about “lazy people looking for handouts” or “free government money.” The truth about this volatile job market and perceived labor shortage, however, is far more complex.
Employees across the U.S. had already become fed up with living a life with irregular work schedules that came with terrible pay. As the pandemic exacted a toll on essential workers starting well over a year ago, many also received the message that the types of work available to them would be vastly different come 2021 and 2022. Add the harassment far too many had to endure during the worst stages of the COVID-19 crisis, and it is no wonder that more of them searched for a new line of work or sought online training with the goal of finding a different type of employment.
But while retail and restaurant managers complain that they cannot find enough workers to keep their businesses running smoothly, one East Coast pizza chain is actually doing quite well — and it has its own response to complaints about labor shortages.
&pizza has taken a divergent route from many of its competitors. Instead of talking about workers in the abstract like a Wall Street analyst or corporate CEO on a quarterly earnings call, the company’s CEO, Michael Lastoria, has insisted that he wants the company to achieve social good while serving good pizza. Currently, &pizza workers start with an hourly wage of $16. The company has bold plans for expansion, and Lastoria has claimed that &pizza has received about 100 job applications for each new opening.
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In a recent profile on Business Insider, Lastoria dismissed the conventional corporate wisdom about fast-casual restaurants, a sector that has long relied on low wages, the exploitation of staff, and high salaries and bonuses for the very few working in the C-Suite.
In addition to paying a competitive wage, &pizza says it also offers healthcare benefits (including a vaccine bonus) as well as paid time off for participating in activist causes. During the pandemic the company also reportedly offered expanded sick time and $5 Lyft rides to work.
"There isn't a labor shortage, there is a shortage of business owners willing to pay a living wage,” Lastoria told Insider’s Zahra Tayeb. "Higher wages lead to greater consumer spending and greater workforce productivity, things every company benefits from."
The approach &pizza and Lastoria have taken toward the chain’s employees is the reality many businesses across the country must learn to embrace. Labor shortage or not, it's a different work environment now.
One massive change that marked 2020 is that many white-collar professionals waxed on about the changes involved with working from home, which included more family time, additional time to connect with nature and achieving that evasive work-life balance. The positive and celebrated changes they enjoyed, however, came at the expense of countless essential workers who often found themselves working twice as hard, subjected to more risk, yet not receiving compensation commensurate with what they had to put up with day after day.
With more workers realizing that they are deserving of a workday with dignity no matter their education, job experience or level of skills, &pizza's success shows how the entire restaurant industry is in need of a reset. Low hourly wages in exchange for the promise of tips no longer has the pull it once did, especially as consumers too often act as if taking a seat in a restaurant entitles them to cheerful service from wait staff. Enough restaurant guests feel they can behave any way they wish if they are paying a gratuity, including one disturbing trend Fast Company has called “maskual harassment.”
It might be time for U.S. restaurants to adopt the standard that many restaurants overseas have long taken: Add a 10 percent service charge to the tab and pay employees a higher hourly wage. After all, no one should feel entitled to a cheap meal — and no one should feel as if they can behave cheaply while visiting a restaurant, either. &pizza gets it. It’s finally time corporate America hears this, too.
It's not a labor shortage. It's more like a labor liberation.
Image credit: &pizza/Facebook
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.