McDonald's Uses MLK Day to Whitewash Its Labor Record

I've noticed that local celebrations of Martin Luther King Day tend to be unique, for they've generally not been turned into yet another excuse for beer and barbecue parties.

Rather than trivialize the meaning of this courageous man's life, most people treat the day as a moment of serious reflection. Many even memorialize it by vowing to confront the Powers That Be on some of the BIG issues that Rev. King asked America to redress, such as entrenched racial inequality and the exploitation of poverty-wage workers.

But now I've learned that joining the gritty struggle for justice is not the proper way to honor King. No, no – 'tis a far better thing you do if you just traipse down to a local McDonald's outlet, order a Happy Meal, and join the joyous, integrated, Golden Arches family in singing a few verses of Kumbayah.

At least, that's what the world's largest hamburger chain urged us to do in a shameless PR campaign. It used this year's MLK Day to try whitewashing its own sorry record of worker mistreatment. One full-page ad pictured three McDonald's "crew-members," each one a person of color, beaming with delight above ad copy that extolled the corporation's commitment to "a diverse and inclusive workforce."

I think Dr. King would've upchucked, and asked: "What about a workforce that's paid a living wage, with benefits – so they don't have to work second or third jobs and go on food stamps to subsidize the labor costs of this miserly, superrich, fast-food empire?"

The touchy-feely ad turned to total squish at the end, calling on all Americans to embrace their differences: "We can't imagine a better way to honor [King's] day than by doing just that," it gushed.

Dr. King, however, had a sharper imagination. He would've helped the workers unionize McDonald's to gain real justice for themselves.

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Photo: Lissandra Melo /