The Hill: Michael Lastoria: No matter how you slice it, raising minimum wage is good business

Op-Ed By Michael Lastoria
The Hill, July 9, 2019

This month, workers earning the minimum wage in Washington, D.C. got a 75-cent increase to their hourly wage, going from $13.25 to $14, and they’ll get to $15 next year. It’s an increase that’s long overdue. I say that as a business owner.

At &pizza, we pay well above the minimum wage. Higher wages have led to greater productivity, increased employee dedication and retention, and our team members, who we call our Tribe, finding a sense of pride in their work.

We’re committed to a “no ceiling” policy, meaning no matter where you start, there’s no limit on how high you can rise if you show the capacity and initiative. Many Tribe members—who are our most visible brand ambassadors—have made the leap from part-time to full-time salaried workers. It’s no coincidence that our customer experience and bottom line have improved as morale has soared. Committed, productive employees are the reason &pizza has been successful.

Revenues increase as customers become regulars, spreading the word to their friends, families and neighbors. But employees are also customers. When the minimum wage increases—as it did this week in D.C. and in neighboring Montgomery County, Md., as well as in Oregon and New Jersey—so does consumer spending.

When workers are compensated fairly—when they know they can afford more than the basic necessities—they become stronger contributors to their local communities. They’re far less likely to need to depend on the social safety net to compensate for inadequate wages. It’s a virtuous cycle all around.

We’re one of 900 businesses and business organizations – and counting – that have signed the Business for a Fair Minimum Wage statement supporting raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024. We support raising the wage because we recognize our economy suffers when full-time work doesn’t pay enough to live a decent life. No matter how tasty our pizza, we can’t reach our full potential if workers don’t have enough money in their pockets to be paying customers—and that goes for every business in every town across America.

I strongly disagree with the argument that raising the minimum wage hurts businesses. Research has refuted that over and over again—as has my personal experience running a business. We’ve experienced rapid, dynamic growth and paying fair wages has been integral to that success.

CEOs have profited greatly from the labor of our workers, but now the concept of the “American Dream” is crumbling beneath the pressures of longer hours for lower pay. This trend is detrimental for businesses and our society. The middle class is shrinking, down from 61 percent in 1971 to 52 percent in 2016. Too many people have two jobs and no home to call their own.

Despite the increase in D.C.’s minimum wage this month, the federal minimum wage is just $7.25, where it has remained since 2009. In 1968, the minimum wage was $1.60, which, adjusted for inflation, translates to about $12 today. That means real wages are decreasing as costs are rising and worker productivity is growing. This development should make everyone uncomfortable.

When we raise the wage, we raise up people and communities. This, in turn, helps businesses grow.

It’s time Congress ensures all workers across this great country are earning enough to help drive our economy forward. I urge my fellow business owners to embrace what will come from a $15 per hour federal minimum wage: stronger, happier workers and a thriving economy.

Michael Lastoria is co-founder and CEO of &pizza, which has 34 locations in Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida and Massachusetts, and is a member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.

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Copyright 2019 Michael Lastoria

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