“Two steps forward, one step back.” I hear that a lot lately.

A cynic may regard this kind of progress as slow going, and each of us this year is allowed more cynicism than maybe we’d have before. But with new potential on the horizon – a new administration, a new coronavirus vaccine, a new legislative landscape – I’m finding new optimism for the next steps we can (and must) take as business leaders for the country’s workers.

This optimism isn’t blind though – “caring” is too often just a C-Suite sentiment delegated to the copywriters to sell to consumers. Nor is the optimism complacent – as every marketing season seems to have a new common cause to champion.

I believe that to truly learn from the past year we must strive to do more this year, and that starts with doing more, and with more urgency. 

Before the pandemic, some of us in the food service industry – which makes up 10 percent of the American workforce – set a sweeping vision of greater fairness in the years ahead, specifically targeting the hot-button topic of wages. We fought for years to bring attention to the topic, and in 2019 achieved meaningful progress on local and federal levels. The House-approved Raise the Wage Act provided an ambitious goal of raising the minimum wage nationally by 2024.

The cynics will call-out that the bill didn’t pass the Senate, as was expected. But future-focused, socially-responsible businesses like mine, &pizza, saw the right side of history and got on it: averaging an above $15 minimum starting wage across our varied locations. We as an industry had undeniably moved forward towards greater fairness.

Those same cynics will point to 2020 as the ultimate step back and, after temporarily shuttering some shops ourselves (while watching countless peers struggle even more profoundly) I can’t argue that perspective however much it hamstrings 2021. 

But the working class was also finally seen for what it is: essential. We furthered the national dialogue on systemic inequalities of every kind, bringing attention to the fact that the majority of the industry’s hourly workforce are people of color. And we exposed – at times in tears and tragedy – how the current minimum wage is by no measure a living wage.

The progress – however slow and, most recently, brutal – is still progress.

Amendment 2 in Florida is the best indication of the opportunity before us. A little over one year ago I stood in the crosshairs of the “Fight for $15,” trying to debunk a barrage of misinformation and make an otherwise Sandersian policy proposals seem applicable to Trumpian sensibilities. Now, the redly-hued sunshine State has voted it forward with bipartisan support. This presents an opportunity for the working class to do and demand more with more unity, and sooner than some promise of 2024.

Which is why &pizza is taking matters into its own hands: standardizing the $15 minimum wage across every one of our 46 locations by 2022. To hold us accountable and hasten our headway, we’ll put out quarterly reporting to the public. And to expand our reach and inspire broader impact, we’ll partner with tomorrow’s job creators and innovators to move America’s workers forward.

How? We’ll figure it out step by step.

Why? Because the working class needs leadership – governmental and executive – to work harder for what’s right, right now.

Michael Lastoria is the co-founder and CEO of &pizza, a mission-driven, culture carrying brand dedicated to better quality and community betterment. Lastoria is a member of Business at a Fair Minimum Wage, and has promoted wage increases with Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and Senator Bernie Sanders.

Published on Nov 30, 2020