7 Things the Media Missed About the Chick-fil-A Saga
It’s probably one of the more bizarre manifestations of the U.S. culture wars in recent years: Chick-fil-A president and COO Dan Cathy expresses his support for “traditional marriage,” LGBTQ activists issue calls for a boycott, and conservatives -- including, most notably, Mike Huckabee -- respond with the now infamous Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, which is attended in “ droves.” Finally, LGBTQ activists respond with two counter-protests, a Same-Sex Kiss Day (self-explanatory) and Starbucks Appreciation Day, intended to show support for a company that has given money to same-sex marriage causes.
It’s been a busy few weeks for same-sex marriage opponents and detractors alike, not to mention chicken sandwich connoisseurs. Given all the media noise, you might think you’ve heard everything there is to know about the Chick-fil-A controversy. In fact, the media has missed a number of important and interesting aspects of the story.
1. LGBTQ rights supporters started boycotting Chick-fil-A years ago. Many media outlets treated Dan Cathy’s announcement as new information, though the company has been stepping up involvement in Christian Right politics sinceCathytookthehelm in 2001. But even his father, Truett Cathy, has donatedto causes associated with the Christian Right for many years. And Chick-fil-A didn’t exactly start out as a secular business. Since Truett Cathy, a Baptist, opened his firstChick-fil-A restaurant in 1967, the family business has operated according to Christianideals like closing on Sundays. A 2007 Forbes exposé revealed just how deep the practices go -- the company’s mission is to “ glorifyGod,” and it has faced discrimination suits by plaintiffs alleging intense pressure to participate in Christian prayers, conferences and other events. Some franchises stock right-wing news media like the Washington Times or play only conservative Christian radio.
A 2009 EqualityMatters report found that Chick-fil-A’s charity division, WinShape, donated more than $1 million to anti-gay groups between 2001 and 2008. In 2009 alone, $1.7 million went to anti-gay groups. Chick-fil-A has promoted the Christian Right’s alternative to Sesame Street, Veggie Tales (originally formed to oppose the allegedly “pro-homosexual agenda” at PBS), as well as Focus on the Family materials, in its kids’ meals. For at least the past decade, Chick-fil-A’s tiestotheChristianRight have been common knowledge among many LGBT groups and progressive organizations. Many members of these communities have been boycotting Chick-fil-A for years now.
2. Chick-fil-A mistreats its workers. I worked at a Cary, North Carolina, Chick-fil-A while in high school in the mid-'90s. The hourly wage I made was extremely low -- around $6 per hour, as I recall. Once, a manager told the franchise owner that I was unfriendly to a customer, and as punishment I was forced to spend hours cleaning mildew off the floor of a back room.
It turns out that I was not the only low-level employee the company has mistreated over the years. Although Chick-fil-A boasts of how well it treats its workers, that treatment seems to apply mostly to franchise owners, who had a 2007 turnover rate of just 5 percent. But the turnover rate for hourly employees -- that is, the people on the frontlines of kitchen prep and cash registers -- was 60 percent. Hourly wages are quitelow throughout the company. Plus, its employees are mostly non-union, so there are many opportunities for abuse.
There have been reports of extensive employee vetting, including intrusions into employees’ personallives about issues like “personal sin.” The company saw about 12 discriminationlawsuits between 1988 and 2007. There were a range of disturbing allegations, from the termination of a Muslim employee who opted out of Christian prayers to the demotion of women for speaking out about sexual harassment. A Georgia woman alleges being fired in 1997 after being pressured by the company to stay at home with her children.