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.
Teachers 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.