This pizza chain owner who pays $16 an hour says there's no labor shortage, just a shortage of businesses willing to pay a decent wage

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This pizza chain owner who pays $16 an hour says there's no labor shortage, just a shortage of businesses willing to pay a decent wage
Co-founder of &pizza Steve Salis (left) and CEO Michael Lastoria (right). Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images
  • The CEO of restaurant chain &pizza says there's no labor shortage, only a wage shortage.
  • He's been paying employees $16/hr since before the pandemic and says he's fully staffed.
  • He said he'd received more than 100 applications for each job this year.

Business owners say they're struggling to find staff. Not so the CEO of &pizza, a restaurant chain in Washington, DC, who claims that he's been bombarded with job applications.

Michael Lastoria told Insider that business was booming at the pizza chain's 51 locations and all were fully staffed. He said that the secret was paying staff a proper wage.

The crippling US labor shortage has been felt in all corners of the economy, including hospitality and ride-hailing. It's caused some businesses to slash opening hours, cut production, and raise prices. Nearly half of US restaurant owners said they struggled to pay their rent in May because staffing shortages hurt their revenues.

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But it hasn't knocked &pizza, Lastoria said.

While opening 12 new locations this year, Lastoria said he'd received well over 100 applications for each job. "Our new locations are fully staffed and we plan to open another 15 by the end of the year," he said.

Lastoria said he'd been able to dodge the labor shortage by leveraging an employee-centric business model that involves paying staff $16 an hour on average, among other benefits.

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"We are living proof that the claims that business owners are making about the impossibility of paying people enough money to live on are false," Lastoria said. Those claims were designed to protect the old corporate mindset that permits shockingly high executive pay and staff exploitation, he said.

Employees working at &pizza are entitled to benefits such as paid leave for activism and healthcare, Lastoria said. "We built this company around taking care of workers because without them we wouldn't exist," he said.

The fact that the average minimum wage worker has to work 79 hours a week to afford rent for a one-bedroom apartment is the real crisis, Lastoria said. "There isn't a labor shortage, there is a shortage of business owners willing to pay a living wage.

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"The idea that wages couldn't possibly rise even once over the past 12 years while prices went up, while inflation went up and while the cost of living went up, has resulted in the 'shortage' [business owners] are experiencing today.

"Higher wages lead to greater consumer spending and greater workforce productivity, things every company benefits from."

A competitive labor market has led to workers "rage-quitting" their jobs to protest poor pay and working conditions. A former employee at Dollar General recently told Insider how she rage-quit her job in the spring of 2021 because of the fraught work environment. Similar incidents have occurred at McDonald's, Chipotle, Hardee's, and Wendy's locations around the US.

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Lastoria said: "If you aren't paying your employees enough to cover basic survival costs, what possible incentive could a person have to take that job?"

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