If the fast food industry is to survive, workers need a greater voice

The food service industry is in a disaster of our personal making. For many years, fast food corporations have paid poverty-level wages, created harmful working situations, and disrespected staff. Hundreds of thousands of restaurant workers have been fired or furloughed throughout the pandemic. Many others risked their well being to go to work, whereas enduring abuse from clients who didn’t need to put on masks. Now, fast food companies throughout the nation are shedding cash as a result of they’ll’t appeal to sufficient workers.

These usually are not new issues, however we need new options; the established order is not working. If the industry is to survive, it requires a higher mannequin — one that offers workers a voice in bettering their jobs. Sadly, historical past has taught us that corporations are unlikely to get there on their very own. We need robust management and efficient laws—like California’s FAST Recovery Act—to create change.

Even on this “Great Resignation” era, the food service industry stands out for its absurdly high quit rate. Fast food corporations can’t hire enough workers to substitute those that depart. The ensuing understaffing is expensive; Domino’s, McDonald’s, Shake Shack, Taco Bell and Starbucks are amongst the many companies which might be losing sales. With out sufficient workers, corporations actually cannot keep their doors open. It is not an exaggeration to say the industry is going through an existential menace.


The causes of at the moment’s labor turmoil are seemingly multifaceted, however not the least bit shocking. Food service jobs have been horrible for years. The median wage is only $11.47 per hour. At 30 hours a week—beneficiant on this industry—that is lower than $18,000 per 12 months: poverty degree for a single dad or mum, and never remotely shut to a living wage.

Less than 15% of fast-food workers get health benefits. Employers change schedules with little notice, and practically 90% of workers have skilled wage theft (no time beyond regulation pay or required breaks, being compelled to work off the clock). Tens of hundreds of 911 calls every year come from fast food workers facing customer violence. Sexual harassment of feminine workers is rampant, and burn injuries are distressingly common. And with out union illustration or different types of voice, workers are powerless to change any of this. It is no surprise they’re fed up; you’ll be too.

This example was not inevitable. Actually, certainly one of us based &pizza, an award-winning pizza chain, exactly to present that investing in workers is not simply the proper factor to do—it’s additionally good for enterprise. We constructed a firm for our workforce, not regardless of them. That’s why we have been the first restaurant chain to pay a $15 minimal wage (our present common wage is $16; we’re focusing on $20).

That’s why we offer well being advantages and paid sick depart no matter hours labored. That’s why we applied a text-based communication platform that enables our workforce to be heard, and paid day off for voting activism that enables our folks to be seen. Empowering staff to affect what’s most vital to them is important—nobody ought to have to select between doing what they really feel is proper and receiving a paycheck. For a lot of, justice in the office is a a part of justice in America, and that calls us to motion.

Our technique has paid off. We haven’t been harm by the so-called labor scarcity as a result of we constructed a enterprise mannequin round caring for those who deal with us. Many enterprise house owners declare that they can not pay folks sufficient cash to stay on; our expertise proves that these claims are false, designed to shield shockingly excessive government pay and continued exploitation of hourly workers.

We would like to imagine that a mixture of pandemic-induced ethical readability and an unprecedentedly tight labor market will make different corporations in the industry do higher. However a mixture of short-term monetary incentives, entrenched beliefs about the worth of frontline workers, and concern of employee energy makes that unlikely.

Think about the previous two years: food service workers risked their lives to drive income for his or her employers. And whereas a few of these employers did increase wages throughout the pandemic, most of their staff nonetheless don’t earn enough to make ends meet. As an alternative of working to construct a sustainable enterprise mannequin that treats workers with dignity, giant employers have been devoting their money and time to lobbying against higher wages and aggressively suppressing unionization efforts.


If change is not going to come from corporations themselves, we need exterior stress. That’s why we’ve been vocal in advocating for a $15 federal minimum wage. However a $15 wage is solely the starting. Workers need a seat at the desk, in order that they’ll have interaction in figuring out issues, and setting and implementing requirements. Employee involvement not solely ensures that the proper issues are addressed; it is additionally vital to making certain that regulations are upheld.

The FAST Restoration Act, which is up for a vote in January in the California Meeting, would give workers that seat. The invoice would set up a first of its sort fast food sector council, consisting of 11 members representing workers, employers (together with franchisees and franchisors), and the state authorities. The council would develop industry-wide requirements concerning points affecting the well being, security, and employment of fast-food restaurant workers, together with wages and dealing situations.

Our industry has failed its workers for too lengthy. If the FAST Act passes, California’s half million fast food workers may have the energy to make the change they need. Hopefully the remainder of the nation will observe.

Michael Lastoria is the founder and CEO of &pizza. Katie Bach is &pizza’s head of technique.