Something to Chew On

Innovations in corporate management are welcome in Harvard Square

The workers will be the same, the name will be similar, but the values will be radically different. Coming in March, The Upper Crust Pizzeria, located on Brattle Street and shut down last year amid labor law violations and bankruptcy, will reopen as The Just Crust, a venture to be partly owned by the previous chain’s former employees.

The opening of The Just Crust will bring to a happy end an ugly story of exploitation and greed. Upper Crust Pizzeria, which had locations in Boston and Washington, D.C., came under fire in the past few years, locked in a series of labor disputes with workers who claimed they had been cheated out of overtime pay and that the chain had hired illegal immigrants. The bad press prompted boycotts from Harvard student groups and other investigations, one of which led to criminal complaints against the company’s owner. When the U.S. Department of Labor ultimately sided with workers, ordering The Upper Crust to compensate them to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the firm was forced into bankruptcy proceedings from which it did not emerge.

Rising from the ashes of The Upper Crust is a new venture, The Just Crust, which has been conceived and established by Shannon E. Liss-Riordan, the attorney who represented workers in their battle with Upper Crust management, and local businessperson Haluk Ozek. Riordan told The Crimson that she hopes Just Crust and its employee-owned corporate structure serves as a model for other businesses. We couldn’t agree more. Though John Galt would beg to differ, employee ownership has undeniable benefits. According to research done by the National Bureau of Economics, workers at employee-owned enterprises have higher levels of loyalty and trust and lower rates of turnover than do workers at conventional ventures. These businesses also fill gaps left by the free market, tackling otherwise neglected social problems, and in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, some posited that the model should be re-examined as an alternative to both socialism and conventional capitalism.

In truth, the workers at Just Crust will enjoy basically the same privileges and responsibilities that white-collar workers have long been accustomed to. Each employee will receive an ownership stake akin to the stock granted to white-collar employees across the economy. The resulting alignment of incentives is likely to have positive effects on effort, worker treatment, and morale. At the very least, we can rest assured that worker abuse will never rear its head at Just Crust.

That’s a lot to chew on, and we hope to be doing exactly that at The Just Crust next month.


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