The price you pay

Nation-wide corporations make decisions that don’t always align with local beliefs. With Iowa City hosting several such businesses, the dynamic between the city and these companies can become tense.



National corporations’ decisions don’t always align with local beliefs.

Chick-fil-A. Walmart. Hobby Lobby. This myriad of companies may seem very different on the surface; after all, how many similarities can there be between an arts and crafts store and a chain famous for chicken sandwiches? It turns out, quite a lot. Large corporations hold a significant influence over the public, and these three stand out in that they have taken controversial stances in the past. Decisions like these play a prominent role in the community and can affect consumers and employees’ choices regarding where they choose to shop and work.

In recent times, many companies have come under fire for controversial stances on important social issues. Chick-fil-A, now the third largest fast food company in the nation according to the Washington Examiner, was widely criticized for comments made by their CEO, Dan Cathy, in opposition to same sex marriage. However, Chick-fil-A recently declared that they would stop donating to anti-LGBTQ organizations.

“I don’t want to compromise my morals for a chicken sandwich,” said Isabelle Paulsen ’21, an active member of the LGBTQ community.

When companies voice conservative views, they are often met with resistance. This was certainly the case in the heat of the Chick-fil-A controversy in 2011. Many advocates for LGBTQ rights called for a boycott of the fast food giant.
“I would say it’s probably smarter to keep [controversial views] behind closed doors because I know it definitely turns me away as a consumer,” said Paulsen.

However, according to the Washington Examiner, Chick-fil-A’s sales have over doubled since the scandal, proving the boycotts less than effective.

Locally, it seems that Chick-fil-A holds a more accepting outlook, with the Coralville franchise location donating 200 meals to the Iowa City Pride Parade in 2015. However, some question whether this is a move to avoid consequences or a genuine sign of growth.

“I don’t think it’s unforgivable if the company comes out and says we made mistakes and we are changing our opinions,” said Paulsen.

The West Side Story reached out to Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby, but they declined to comment.

When large corporations take stances on social issues, it can be difficult to remember that underneath these marketing tactics lie hundreds of thousands of employees that don’t necessarily want to take the brunt of these decisions. Living in Iowa City, a very liberal town, makes for a unique mix of companies that have taken traditionally conservative stances.

Soha El-fadil ’20 experiences this unusual dynamic in her work as a cashier at Walmart, a store that has refused to take action on gun regulations in the past and routinely donates to Republican organizations. El-fadil was initially unaware of the stances Walmart has taken. After educating herself on it, she acknowledges that while she cares about not supporting businesses that don’t align with her views, it hasn’t gotten to a point where it affects her job.

“I feel like once it enters like my workplace and starts affecting the people around me, that’s when I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t feel like I need this job anymore and I would just find a different one.’ But as of the moment I feel like it’s not really affecting my job or anything,” El-fadil said.

While El-fadil’s job is secured at Walmart whether she supports their beliefs or not, many Walmart employees lost their jobs in the spring of this year. The job of the “people greeter” was one that was well-known throughout Walmart, a company that holds a status as the largest private employer in the US. In February of 2019, Walmart announced the removal of the job of the greeter, changing the job requirements in a way that seemed to disproportionately affect people with disabilities.

Greeter jobs had been a good fit for those with certain disabilities, as the job entailed little physical activity and required little training. However, with the new job “customer hosts,” employees must also be prepared to do things such as assist shoppers and handle security. These tasks require the workers to be able to lift 25 pounds, stand for long periods of time and collect carts—tasks that can be nearly impossible for someone with a disability.

With this action being a glaring detriment to those with disabilities, there are only few voices amongst a wave of backlash that haven’t taken the side of the workers. After working with disabled students for 22 years, Special Education Teacher Steve Merkle is experienced in helping disabled students at West find employment after graduation. Standing out against the backdrop of criticism, he believes that people were perhaps too quick to attack.

“It’s like Walmart got targeted and almost vilified as making this decision. Walmart has a pretty good track record. So to see them getting kicked around by this one decision that they had to make probably came down to the bottom line on how much money they were paying employees,” Merkle said. “Maybe they did it because it was too much to pay a person that all they’re doing is standing there saying, ‘Hello,’ and ‘Hi.’”

It’s like Walmart got targeted and almost vilified as making this decision. Walmart has a pretty good track record. So to see them getting kicked around by this one decision that they had to make probably came down to the bottom line on how much money they were paying employees.”

— Steve Merkle, special education teacher

Even though Merkle understands the decision wasn’t necessarily made to target a specific group of people, he recognizes that this is a major loss in their fight to find jobs for them all.

“I always thought it was an awesome job for some students, because that’s what they’re good at,” he said. “But are they good at knowing where everything is in the store or how to price or how to run the cashier? Some kids, absolutely not. Where do you draw that line? Oh, ‘We’ll take them if they can do everything but the cashier?’”

With corporate decisions battling ethics and equality every day, the separation between financially sound and discriminatory decisions is becoming blurred. It can be nearly impossible to decipher the reasoning behind every action large businesses are taking, but change can still happen.

“Decisions like Walmart just made are in the wrong direction,” Merkle said. “But, if we could just create an open mindset with some businesses, that would make a huge difference.”