&Pizza CEO Michael Lastoria’s advice to employers on worker scheduling: ‘Don’t be a dick’

The pizza chain co-founder evangelizes for fair workweek on panel hosted by U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.
Scheduling could be the next labor battleground for employers./Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

&Pizza CEO and co-founder Michael Lastoria on Thursday made the case for giving workers more predictable schedules, saying his No. 1 rule: “Don’t be a dick.”

Lastoria was speaking on a panel hosted by U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) on the benefits of fair scheduling, an issue that is gaining steam with the rise in union organizing.

Walsh said the pandemic highlighted many deficiencies in the workplace, not the least of which is the challenge many hourly workers face in trying to plan their lives and budgets around unpredictable work schedules.

Fewer than one quarter of American workers know their schedules more than one week in advance, he said, which creates great stress for workers who need to make doctor’s appointments, find reliable childcare or ensure they can make rent payments.

“Unstable schedules hurts workers,” Walsh said. “It also limits the potential of our economy and it holds us back as a nation.”

Fair work week legislation is in effect in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Oregon and DeLauro said a bill is brewing in Connecticut.

Laws vary, but they generally call for two-week notice for shifts and prohibit employers from posting schedules or canceling shifts last minute, require a certain time period between shifts and more flexibility with shift changes.

Scheduling software without human oversight can also result in unmanageable and “sometimes inhumane” practices, said DeLauro.

“And that’s particularly tough on women, who are often the primary caregiver,” said DeLauro. “Unpredictable work hours can undermine a child’s well being, and cause mental health problems. They can make it difficult for people to get high-quality childcare. They can make it difficult to budget for expenses, and increases exposure to economic insecurity, like hunger and housing.”

The 65-unit &Pizza, based in Washington, D.C., however, is among the employers that have “figured this out,” said Walsh.

Lastoria has long advocated for an increase in the federal minimum wage, for example. &Pizza strives for a “Tribe first” culture of individuality, community and inclusivity, according to its website, with benefits that include a more-than $15 minimum wage, paid time off, healthcare and subsidized transportation.

Though he didn’t specify &Pizza’s scheduling policies, Lastoria said a “fair workweek is the gold standard.”

This is easier for chains like &Pizza, in which units are entirely company owned, he acknowledged. But he argued that predictive schedules are better for the bottom line.

&Pizza used to get about 1,000 applications when new units opened before the pandemic. Now, it’s more like 100, but, he said, “We’re still getting applications.”

He credited the company’s culture of treating workers with respect and dignity, in addition to offering higher wages.

Offering advice to other employers, he said, “My No. 1 rule: Don’t be a dick. Listen, process and get better.”

Restaurant employers across the country are asking, “How can I increase margins? How can I potentially reduce my labor expense?

“Well, [by] keeping people. Reducing turnover. Training and development,” he said. “We find on average that if we can get someone to run a pizza shop for more than a year, you start to see a 200-300 basis point impact on revenue, which flows through at about 50-70%, so you’re generating real profit off of just retention.”

And, because of massive turnover generally in the industry, keeping hourly workforce in place over a year can also generate anywhere from 100-200 basis points of improvement in margin, he added. “So it’s like incentivizing people. Play the medium game, not the short game, and develop. Give them schedules. Give them time and you have a far better business.”

Lastoria pointed to successful companies like Trader Joe’s, In-N-Out Burger and “you could argue Chick-fil-A, here and there,” which have long been known for offering higher wages and fair scheduling.

“You envy those businesses,” he said. “They’re all case studies. They’re doing it.”

Across the industry, restaurants are struggling to staff their units, and automation is not ready to pick up the workload, he said.

“We have got to get our act together,” he said of the restaurant industry, which employs roughly 10% of American workers. “How are people going to do their best when they don’t know their schedules? How are they going to learn to do their job well, when there’s no consistency. Consistency is critical.”

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