Shareholders Confront McDonald’s 'McTeacher's Nights' Inside Their Annual Meeting
On May 26, a number of McDonald’s shareholders directly challenged top executives at the fast-food franchise’s annual meeting in Illinois. The action, which is part of a wider movement targeting the company, specifically cited McDonald’s marketing and lobbying practices for criticism.
The meeting took place after a week of protests aimed at a local fundraising campaign called McTeacher's Night, a program that allows teachers to work at McDonalds for a night to raise money for their school, and in the process invites students to eat McDonald's food. Critics question the corporatization of the community’s educational system, and argue that such events encourage children to eat junk food. While some local teachers support these events, schools’ dreary economic situation is frequently cited by voices on both sides of the debate. An AlterNet article by Lorraine Chow quotes an Illinois teacher (who preferred to remain anonymous) on how these evenings can be a worthwhile way to generate money:
“For struggling schools, why not take advantage of it? A penny is a penny. Because if you do it for one night, they might afford a new set of paints. It’s tremendous. If my classroom were struggling and doing this for one night would buy me a tiny bit of relief, I would consider doing it. Parents take their kids to McDonald’s anyway.”
The same piece quotes a statement by Jesse Sharkey, the vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, who believes that Chicago schools’ lack of funds makes the intrusion of McDonald’s all the more frustrating:
“In Chicago we face potentially devastating cuts to our schools, yet one of the world’s richest corporations operating in our backyard is exploiting this situation by eroding the school food environment and our students’ health in the long run.”
Recent demonstrations, which have included a number of marches and a camp-out in front of McDonald’s suburban headquarters, have also targeted McDonald’s much-maligned labor record. The Fight For $15 movement, which has a history of actions against McDonald’s, has embraced the McTeacher’s Night pushback.
These are just some of the issues raised by shareholders at the May 26 meeting. Many of the testimonies were from individuals speaking on behalf of proxyholders who had been barred from the meeting via a suspicious change to the company’s admission policy at the event.
In addition to the shareholder statements, Corporate Accountability International defended a resolution that urged McDonald’s to take a close look at how its political contributions stray from the company’s stated values. The resolution was preceded by a report, put out by the organization, which analyzes how McDonald’s uses the National Restaurant Association to block minimum wage hikes and avoid labeling genetically modified food.
Jacob Siegel offered his question on behalf of Jose Oliva, co-director of the Food Chain Workers’ Alliance, who was also blocked from attending the meeting. Siegel quoted Oliva directly and singled out McDonald’s support of the National Restaurant Association:
While you claim to be interested in making our communities better, you support the National Restaurant Association, the country’s largest and most powerful anti-worker lobby. This past April 15th, the NRA sent over a hundred lobbyists to Congress to keep the minimum wage stagnant, undermine junk food marketing protections for children, and chip away at the few nutrition standards we have...This is the exact opposite of what McDonald's claims it stands for, and it is certainly the exact opposite of what we need to thrive as a society.
Jennifer McDowell, a special-ed teacher and mother of three, explained to AlterNet how she gave her statement in partnership with area parent Mark Noltner, who McDonald’s effectively shut out of the meeting. McDowell summarized Nolter’s concerns to the company:
Last year, Mark’s daughter brought home a flyer advertising a McTeacher's Night in her school...In his words: It really saddened me that McDonald's had stooped so low that they needed to exploit the relationship between a teacher and a student in order to gain a marketing foothold on such young consumers. This is clearly an example of McDonald's disguising marketing as a "fundraiser.”
Responding directly to McDowell's comments, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook sidestepped Nolter's concerns about corporations permeating his daughter's education and focused and insisted there was a valuable financial benefit to such partnerships:
We're going to be diametrically opposed on this one. And let me explain a little bit why. As we grow up as individuals, some of the most formative adults that we learn from are teachers. They play a very important role in our lives as we grow, as we get educated, and develop. And then 20, 30 years later we then put that same trust in the judgment in skill and expertise of teachers that help introduce our children to the world and help educate them and get them ready for the challenges ahead..So if a school or a PTA or a teacher seeks to collaborate with a local business to raise much needed funds, I think that's an entirely appropriate quest and one that we have every right to respond to, and we'll continue to do so.