Healthcare and Pizza?

Pizza is one of my favorite foods. I consume a lot of it, most homemade, but still a hefty portion at various restaurants. But here’s one thing I won’t do any longer–stuff my face at the expense of the pizza delivery guy or gal. That means no more patronizing Papa John’s Pizza.

I was appalled to read today that Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter plans to cut hours for his already meagerly compensated employees. Why? To avoid having to absorb the cost of medical benefits associated with the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka Obamacare). Earlier this summer he was chided when he stated that the cost of each pizza would increase by 11-14 cents because of the legislation.

Nobody asked me, but I’d gladly pay more for my pizza if the company CEO told me that he was providing a living wage and benefits for all employees. Fast food employees make close to minimum wage. That means the average pizza delivery person makes $15,000 plus tips in 2010 dollars. Don’t forget, said employee also drives his or her own vehicle and absorbs the cost of gas and car maintenance. Plus, that’s assuming the employee is full-time. Mr. Schnatter and other restauranteurs plan to avoid hiring full-time employees, meaning that same pizza delivery person will have to work a couple of part-time jobs to keep a nose above the U.S. poverty level.

As a community college English instructor, I always had students who delivered pizza while working on a degree that would afford them better earning potential. Oh, the tales they told! Don’t count on customers being good tippers; many tip poorly if at all. If these hourly wage earners get sick, need surgery, or are pregnant–too bad. No work equals no pay. The vast majority of these individuals were bright and articulate. Many of them were working to break out a life of poverty or to overcome the consequences of poor choices.

Mr. Schnatter and other entrepreneurs certainly have the right to run their businesses the way they see fit. There’s a reason they are wealthy, and I am middle class. That’s what a culture of choice and free enterprise is all about, right? What I have trouble squaring is a business that doesn’t put the well-being of its employees on at least the same level as the well-being of its customers and its quality control. After all, happy workers help ensure good quality and satisfied consumers.

Mr. Schnatter is quite the success story, although not one of rags to riches. He was a go-getter, a hard worker, and created a company that has done amazingly well, with a net worth worth somewhere around $400 million. The University of Louisville football stadium was named “Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium” thanks to his more than 10 million dollars worth of generous gifts to the University’s athletic program. Papa John’s is also the official pizza of the NFL and the Super Bowl, and you know that cost a pretty penny. Spokesperson Peyton Manning just signed a deal to own 21 Papa John’s locations in the Denver area and appears in television ads touting the pies.

Again, great business decisions and advertising. I’m not faulting Mr. Schnatter for being less than savvy. But come on, can’t you invest a little of the profits in the workers in the trenches? Can’t you help revolutionize the industry in a new and more humane way, one that would make Papa John’s an ethical star in the industry?

Mr. Schnatter understands the high costs associated with health care because he has a daughter who was born prematurely as the result of an automobile accident and who has had access to the best therapies and treatments medical science has to offer. Might that not motivate this CEO to assist his employees with basic healthcare? Evidently not.

In a People Magazine article from 1997, Mr. Schnatter was talking about the family mansion in Louisville and the addition of a 6,000 square foot carriage house that will never house any horses. “It’s too nice for them,” he says. “I just like building stuff.”

That’s cool, Mr. Schnatter, and I can appreciate that you enjoy building businesses and stuff. It’s what you do. As for me, as a pastor and writer, I’m in the business of building up people and working on behalf of justice for all God’s children. So, let’s make a deal. I’ll start eating your pizza again when you put your money where your mouth is and do right by your employees. And yes, I’ll gladly pay extra for it because that’s how business works–somebody has to pay.

In the meantime, and I suspect it may be a long time, I’ll make my money count by putting what I might have spent at Papa John’s into my church’s offering plate to benefit hunger ministries and the working poor. I’m going to invite everyone I know to join me in this effort, too. How’s that for a deal?

Wondering what this has to do with thanks-living? I’m glad I have the choice to make a difference and stand up for fellow Americans who don’t have access to healthcare like I am blessed to have.

Photos by moresheth, Arturo de Albornoz, and Keith Allison. Thanks!

2 thoughts on “Healthcare and Pizza?

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