Cecily Myart-Cruz: Stop McDonald's exploitation of public schools

Perverter of underfunded education

Perverter of underfunded education


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 — $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/National Education Association.

Jill Richardson: Despite the PR, still bad food at McDonald's

McDonald’s is floundering. There’s no other way to say it. The global fast- food chain has had declining U.S. sales for well over a year now. But why? I’d love to gloat that Americans have finally caught on that the Golden Arches peddles terrible food, but that might not be the case. Theories for the slump abound. Some believe that the menu is too confusing, slowing down service. Others say that consumers are drifting toward fast-casual chains like Chipotle and Panera, even if their food costs more. And Consumer Reports notes that McDonald’s has the worst-tasting burger compared to 20 competitors.

Even McDonald’s itself doesn’t seem to be sure. The company has introduced a Create Your Taste option, allowing consumers to customize their burgers. It promised to stop serving chicken raised with some antibiotics. In Southern California, the chain even tried serving kale. McKale?

No, just no. Fortune magazine concluded that “A growing segment of restaurant goers are choosing ‘fresh and healthy’ over ‘fast and convenient,’ and McDonald’s is having trouble convincing consumers that it’s both. Or even can be both.”

Which brings me to the chain’s latest move: hiring former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs as its head of communications. The talking point du jour is that McDonald’s wants to build a “modern, progressive burger company.” What does that even mean? You’ve got to give it to them, though — it at least sounds better than “Please forget about that Supersize Me movie.”

McDonald’s didn’t stop with hiring Gibbs, however. The Golden Arches brought on board another corporate superstar, Silvia Lagnado, as its head of marketing. Lagnado has previously worked for Dove, Unilever and Bacardi. Clearly, McDonald’s thinks it’s grappling with a marketing problem.

This points to a tactic that I learned back in business school: When consumers don’t like your products, you can either make your products better…or simply make your customers think they’re better. With this move, McDonald’s seems to be taking the latter route.

Articles analyzing the company’s poor sales underscore some reasons why consumers have turned their back on the chain. Instead of adding a few leaves of kale here and there, why not remove the anti-foaming agent in the French fries? In other words, instead of putting lipstick on a factory-farmed pig, why not switch to serving more ethical foods?

I have no love for the chain, but I hope that McDonald’s new marketing gurus guide them toward real change, and not just a new advertising campaign. Just because billboards and jingles repeatedly tell us we’re “lovin’ it,” that doesn’t make it true.

If McDonald’s opts for new slogans instead of making substantial changes, send them a message by buying better food somewhere else.

Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.  This first ran at


Chris Powell: What is a 'living wage' amidst social disintegration?


For more evidence that Connecticut's economy has passed the tipping point and is locked into reverse, consider the legislation recently reported favorably by two General Assembly committees to penalize large employers $1 for every hour worked by every employee who isn't paid at least $15 per hour.

As with recent proposals to raise minimum wages throughout the country, the premise of this legislation is that every full-time job should pay a “living wage,” a wage large enough to support a family -- that people should not be paid more or less in relation to the value produced by their labor, the method traditionally used in a market economy, but paid according to their need, as determined by government.

But the legislation doesn't define necessary terms. How big a family exactly and at what stage of life? Exactly what living conditions -- what sort of dwelling, cars, amenities? And who is to decide these variables to make a master assessment of need? What state government agency is equipped for that, or will one have to be created some place between the Office of Early Childhood and the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women?

Advocates of the legislation claim that big companies that don't pay their employees at least $15 per hour are being subsidized by the various income supports and welfare stipends given by the government to the working poor. The advocates say the dollar-per-hour tax on such companies will recover some of government's expense.

But the level of welfare benefits is a matter of the discretion of government itself, not employers. That government now considers even cellphone service to be a necessity and has begun providing it as a welfare benefit suggests that such benefits are highly arguable. That people merely want rather than need cellphones hardly establishes that a large employer is bad or underpaying them.

Further, there does not seem to be any mechanism in the legislation to prevent companies from recovering the new tax by reducing wages, transferring the tax from companies to their employees and actually worsening the circumstances of the working poor. But then the legislation may be meant mainly to improve the financial circumstances of state government itself so that it may blithely continue to pay salary and benefit increases to its own employees and those of local government even as the state budget deficit grows.

Judging from the examples cited by the wage legislation's advocates, the essential problem here seems to be that tens of thousands of unmarried, uneducated and largely unskilled women with several children, often by different fathers who are not contributing to the support of their offspring, cannot survive in Connecticut without government subsidies in the only sort of work available to them, low-skilled jobs in food service and other retailing.

The governor and legislators refuse to note this social disintegration and its facilitation by welfare policy. They also refuse to note that, because of the state's comprehensive policy of social promotion in education, two-thirds of Connecticut's high school seniors and public college freshmen have not mastered high school math and half have not mastered high school English but have been given high school diplomas anyway and sent into the workforce grossly unprepared for anything but similar low-skilled employment.

So instead state government will blame McDonald's and Walmart.

Connecticut's policies lately have given it the reputation as the most pro-labor and anti-business state even as the state's economic and population declines have continued into a third decade. Connecticut now excels at giving things away but it is hard to find any business willing to locate or expand here to produce something without a direct cash subsidy from state government.

Of course correlation is not causation but a little curiosity might be in order, if only as an academic exercise for warning other states about what not to do.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

McDonald's in trouble for retaliating against workers cartoon by Khalil Bendib

McDonald’s is scrambling, and I’m not talking about eggs.

Your know your business has what image consultants call “quality perception issues” when your public relations team is fielding such questions as: “Does McDonald’s beef contain worms?

Thornier yet for the world’s largest burger machine is its boneheaded response to the remarkable, ongoing rebellion by fast-food workers demanding a $15-an-hour wage and the freedom to unionize without corporate retaliation.

McDonald’s responded by — guess what? — retaliating.

Its McManagers illegally reduced the hours (and therefore the pay) of hundreds of those who joined the “Fight For 15″ campaign. Many also spied on workers, interrogated and threatened them, and imposed restrictions on their freedom even to talk about unions or working conditions.

The corporation now faces upwards of 100 federal charges of labor law violations — as well as rising customer anger over its ham-handed tactics. Naturally, McDonald’s responded by apologizing and raising wages.

Ha! Just kidding.

Instead, it’s running a new series of TV ads that, astonishingly, tries to tap into people’s emotions about such tragic events as 9/11, as well as linking its logo to people’s positive feelings about veterans, birthdays, and even “love.”

Mickey D’s corporate marketing director Deborah Wahl explains that the ads are all about the Golden Arches shining brightly in every community, being with us through the good and the bad.

As she puts it, “Who better to stand up for lovin’ than McDonald’s?”

Huh? She should ask protesting workers about the “love” they’re getting from McDonald’s.

Oh, to be fair, the bosses did make one change for workers. They got new uniforms.

That’s not just boneheaded. It’s pathetic.

 Jim Hightower, a columnist at, is is a radio commentator, writer and public speaker.