Pizza Chain CEO Calls for Higher Wages, More Empathy

  • The CEO of a pizza chain discussed the persistent staffing issues that some businesses have faced.
  • Michael Lastoria told Insider that a “shortage of imagination” is the real problem.
  • “To frame it as a labor shortage ignores the realities of our industry,” he said.

The owner of a pizza chain said he’s not concerned about the ongoing labor shortage in the US.

Michael Lastoria, CEO of &pizza, a restaurant chain in Washington, DC, told Insider that a “shortage of imagination” is the real problem facing the US.

“The shortage of imagination is the inability to diagnose and cure the root cause of this so-called labor shortage,” Lastoria said.

He added: “To frame it as a labor shortage ignores the realities of our industry.”

According to Lastoria, the pandemic highlighted issues about the restaurant industry, in particular, which have remained unsolved for decades. These problems include low wages, lack of benefits, dangerous working conditions and the cyclical nature of firing and re-hiring staff when convenient for employers, he said.

“These are not new problems but we need new solutions because the status quo is not working,” Lastoria said. He added that business owners who don’t wise up to the fact that workers simply require higher salaries will be left behind.

“We’re seeing that play out now,” Lastoria said.

Earlier in January, a 40-year-old millennial told Insider she quit her job of five years as a technical services librarian because of its toxic environment, limited advancement opportunities, and poor policies for working parents.

But the biggest factor that led to her quitting was not being allowed to work remotely. “I chose to be happy,” she said.

At &pizza, however, there is almost no sign of a labor shortage, according to Lastoria. People are eager to work at the chain, “because of the culture and basic respect for their humanity,” the CEO said.

Last year, the company opened 18 new locations and plans to open 35 more this year.

“Something that is really key for business owners to understand is that in order to truly invest in what it means to be a good employer you have to involve your workers in the conversation in a meaningful way,” Lastoria said.

“You have to understand what it feels like to be onboarded, what it feels like to be trained and to work a busy shift. If you’re not on the floor, then you aren’t equipped to know what the hourly workforce needs, he added.

In the current climate of the US economy, employers are learning that they’ve lost leverage. If they aren’t rethinking their business’ relationship to labor, then they will find themselves without people willing to work for them, according to Lastoria.

This is an “inflection point in the industry,” where it no longer matters if they think it’s the right thing to do, he said. “They must pay fair wages,” he added.

And now, the movement towards better pay and working conditions has amplified so much that owners cannot ignore it. “You can’t put this conversation back in the bottle,” Lastoria said. It’s a large group of people speaking outwards and getting support back, he added.

These discussions are bearing fruit with corporations like Apple and McDonald’s, which have offered better wages and benefits to tackle staffing problems.

Lastoria has previously spoken out about persistent pay issues in the restaurant industry. In an interview with Insider last year, he discussed his determination to pay a decent wage.

He stressed that by ensuring workers are paid a proper living wage and treated with dignity and empathy, it’s perfectly possible to put an end to the chaos and disruption surrounding the US labor market.

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