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The Scam Behind McDonald’s ‘McTeacher’s Nights’

| July 16, 2019

mcteacher nights

An unhealthy fund-raiser. (Shutterstock)

By Cecily Myart-Cruz

Corporate America is looming larger and larger in U.S. public schools. That’s not a good thing for educators, students, or workers.

Nowhere could this be more clear than the case of McDonald’s, whose founder once scouted locations for new stores by flying over communities and looking for schools. The fast food giant pioneered methods of attracting school children to its stores — from Happy Meals to marketing schemes like McTeacher’s Nights.


McTeacher’s Nights have become almost commonplace in many parts of the country. Here’s how they work.

Teachers and other public school employees prompt students and parents to eat at their local McDonald’s on an otherwise slow night. Then teachers volunteer their time behind the cash register, serving students and their families junk food, while McDonald’s workers are often told not to go in that night for their shift. 

A small amount of the proceeds — about $1 to $2 per student — then goes back to the school.  

Many students have grown up with these seemingly innocuous fundraisers. Hundreds, if not thousands, happen across the U.S. each year, according to Corporate Accountability and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Meanwhile, thanks to gross underfunding of public schools, such fundraisers get less scrutiny than they should. Beyond the obvious problem of enlisting teachers — the people children trust most, next to their parents — to serve young people junk food, there’s also the issue of labor rights. 

other-wordsTeachers are already woefully underpaid for the service they provide our communities. McTeacher’s Nights engage these teachers to volunteer additional hours, often displacing low-income McDonald’s workers in the process. 

What results is what one former McDonald’s CEO described as philanthropy that’s “99 percent commercial” in nature. What do we call it? Exploitation.

Teachers need to be standing in solidarity with McDonald’s employees, not at cross-purposes. They are our students, family members, and our neighbors. For their long hours working on their feet, they are often paid poverty wages. 

And as a recent report from the National Employment Law Project finds, the corporation is failing in its legal duty to provide employees a safe work environment. Dozens of women from California to Florida have filed complaints alleging sexual harassment by supervisors and co-workers in McDonald’s stores and franchises. And thousands of workers in 10 cities walked off the job to protest these abuses.
  
In the education field, we know the importance of a strong union to prevent abuses like these. Yet McDonald’s has been accused of union-busting, and even firing employees for attending Fight for $15 rallies to raise the minimum wage.

That’s why more than 50 state and local teachers unions have signed an open letter challenging McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook to end McTeacher’s Nights. And this year, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), representing 1.7 million members and 3,000 local affiliates, adopted a resolution rejecting all corporate-sponsored fundraisers for schools.

It’s time for McDonald’s and other corporations to stop exploiting our schools, children, and their own workforce. Until they do, we will continue to stand with McDonald’s workers in their fight for a living wage and a safe workplace — and for teachers fighting for the funding their local schools need.

We encourage others to stand with us.

Cecily Myart-Cruz is a veteran teacher, activist, and the Vice President of the United Teachers Los Angeles/NEA.


8 Responses for “The Scam Behind McDonald’s ‘McTeacher’s Nights’”

  1. Melissa Castaneda says:

    I called the Town Center McDonalds many times. They still owe FPC flag football about $250. We never received the check.

  2. Name (required) says:

    I remember when I was a kid, the Pizza Hut “Book It” program offered me a free personal pan pizza if I read 5 books over the summer. What an incentive!! I loved reading, and I still do. Although things have changed, Im still okay with Pizza Hut and reading. No harm, no foul. (Unlike today’s kids, I even know the difference between to, too, and two!) Thanks, Pizza Hut!

  3. Abbey Cooke says:

    Ridiculous…not the practice, but the article. As a teacher that has VOLUNTEERED many a time at a McTeacher’s night, Chick-fil-A spirit nights, and Zaxby’s spirit nights I appreciate the community and business support of our schools. Why are you only taking McDonald’s to task?!?!? I will also correctly inform you that for the DOZENS of restaurant spirit nights I have worked, their staff was not sent home or told not to come in. In fact, it was the exact opposite…additional staff was scheduled to cover the busier shift. Also, teachers are not permitted to work behind the counter at any of the establishments. We “work the crowd” in the lobby. The “hardest” task we are given is stuffing kid’s meal bags.

    You are correct that schools do not have enough money. So, why are you shaming the ways we go about raising some?!?

  4. Todd Barilla says:

    I’m not sure where this reporter is getting their info, but speaking from my own 26 years of McDonalds management, our stores have to nearly double the amount of staff we have on school nights. And we are happy to do so. The teachers that VOLUNTEER their time always seem to have a great time behind the counter too. And nothing beats the excitement on the kids faces when they see their teachers outside of school. This article and its author clearly have a jaded view of McDonalds, or simply have not done their research. Nearly every point that is stated is just wrong. My opinion, based on my experiences, for whatever that’s worth….

  5. Dave says:

    Anyone signing up to serve this garbage cancer food to our children needs to get checked at the door because this is not food people should be eating. This cheaper then cheap food was meant to appease to the poor people and sicken them with diseases , they in turn cant pay for treatment and keep their generation in a continuous down spiral. Change the ways of the past and open your eyes people. Do not endanger our youth at the cost of saving a few bucks or earning a buck or two.

  6. carol says:

    How ignorant are so many teachers?? Isn’t that an oxymoron?
    All of these coorporations don’t care about education, they care about their bottom line!!!! That simple!!

  7. Concerned Observer says:

    Rarely have I read such diametrically opposed points of view; even in the present dog-and-pony show we call National Politics. In this case, I would find the teachers who commented on this story to be the most creditable source. This story goes to prove one on my dad’s old axioms, “You can please some of the people all of the time, and you can please all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all the people all of the time. In my humble opinion, this case goes to the teachers and Mr. Barilla. Thank you McDonalds & Teachers.

  8. gmath55 says:

    Is McDonald’s one reason for childhood obesity? I would say YES. Do parents care? Not from what I have been seeing. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm

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