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3 Million Teachers to McDonald's: We're Not Lovin' It

Adding to corporation’s woes, nation’s largest teachers union rejects McTeacher’s Nights, marketing in schools


Today, the National Education Association (NEA) and more than 50 state and local teachers unions challenged McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook to end McTeacher's Nights, the corporation's most exploitative form of kid-targeted marketing.

The call, issued in a letter written and organized by Corporate Accountability International (CAI) and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), comes as McDonald's struggles to climb out of seven consecutive quarters of nose-diving sales in the US and continues to lose families--its core customer base. The letter builds upon a growing movement of parents and health professionals who are demanding McDonald's end its kid-targeted marketing, and an increasing number of institutions--most recently the Cleveland Clinic--that are severing ties with the corporation.

On McTeacher's Nights, McDonald's recruits teachers to "work" behind the counter and serve burgers, fries, and soda to their students and their students' families. The corporation heavily brands the events, even going so far as to provide uniforms and branded shirts for teachers to wear behind counters. In return, McDonald's donates only a small portion of the event's proceeds. The events take advantage of cash-strapped schools and use teachers to sell junk food directly to their students in order to create brand loyalty.

At McDonald's most recent shareholders' meeting, the Chicago Teachers Union denounced the practice on behalf of teachers in the corporation's own urban school district.

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"It is wholly inappropriate for McDonald's to exploit cash-strapped schools to market its junk food brand, while miring its workers in poverty, effectively hollowing out the tax base for our schools," said Jesse Sharkey, Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union. "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."

Not only are McTeacher's Nights harmful for children's health, they are also chronically poor fundraisers. Schools typically receive only 15 to 20 percent of the event's proceeds, often amounting to only one to two dollars per student. According to CCFC's research of a sampling of 25 schools which had participated in McTeacher's Nights, only five schools raised more than $1,000.

"Frankly, it's disrespectful for a multi-billion dollar corporation such as McDonald's to throw pennies at our schools while it uses our teachers to market its products," said Melinda Dart, Vice President of the California Federation of Teachers and President of the Jefferson Elementary Federation of Teachers. "At a time when we are working hard to help our youth adopt healthy habits, this corporation and its junk food simply have no place in our schools."

In public statements, executives have waffled around the scope of McDonald's marketing in schools. For instance, shortly after executives publicly denied putting Ronald McDonald in schools, McDonald's USA President Mike Andres told investors on a December 2014 investor call that McDonald's has to be "in the schools." During that call, Andres also cited a presence in schools as part of the corporation's "heritage."

Despite executives' statements, McDonald's continues to market directly in schools by sponsoring McTeacher's Nights and sending Ronald McDonald into schools under the guise of physical education and reading programming. It has also sold branded fast food in school cafeterias.

Today's call was backed by authorities in the field of education, including Diane Ravitch, Ph.D., Research Professor of Education at New York University; Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Professor Emerita at the Graduate School of Education at Lesley University; and Kevin G. Welner, Professor and Director, National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado Boulder.

Michelle Obama and the USDA have announced new proposals to stop the practice of promoting junk food in schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics and four federal agencies have also recommended restricting junk food marketing to kids.

Since 2013, more than 360 McTeacher's Night events have been documented in more than 30 states.

Fairplay, formerly known as Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, educates the public about commercialism's impact on kids' wellbeing and advocates for the end of child-targeted marketing. Fairplay organizes parents to hold corporations accountable for their marketing practices, advocates for policies to protect kids, and works with parents and professionals to reduce children's screen time.