Chapter 6: A Fair Share of the Pie

Chapter 6 focuses on two lawsuits against McDonald’s by black franchisees in 1970s and 1980s Los Angeles. Litigants, James T. Jones and Charles Griffis, accused McDonald’s of barring black entrepreneurs from ownership opportunities within the corporation by restricting their employment to black, mostly impoverished, neighborhoods. Such contracting practices, they claimed, unduly burdened minority owners with responsibilities (e.g., securing the safety of customers and property from crime, tending to communities’ socio-economic needs) to mitigate poverty’s effects on the successful operation of McDonald’s storefronts – labor from which the McDonald’s corporation greatly profited. Jones and Griffis were not alone in their employment experiences with McDonald’s. Surveys of other black franchisees taken at the time echoed this employment practice and, in each case, proved sufficient evidence for legal proceedings on the basis of employment discrimination. However, for McDonald’s, assigning blacks franchisees to black communities bespoke their commitment to being culturally sensitive to the needs of minority neighborhoods. Brokering this conflict in the interest of the plaintiffs, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) amassed community and political support against McDonalds and organized boycotts with varying degrees of success. At stake on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, for the NAACP, was the right to economic justice and consequently making inroads toward black access to wealth. 

Chatelain’s analysis elucidates a number of tensions concerning how progress as it related to race could be interpreted and championed during this time within American inner cities. McDonald’s found in Los Angeles black communities captive markets made vulnerable by a lack of economic and infrastructural investments. This community-level monopolization greatly constrained the public’s political contestation of the corporation. Put differently, how can activism, specifically boycotting, against a corporation emerge when a community is dependent on that establishment for essential goods such as affordable food? It is in this context that the NAACP, city officials, and minority business leaders aligned their efforts toward pursuing a fair share of McDonald’s revenue for the benefit of middle and upper class black professionals. Ultimately in their 1985 settlement with Charles Griffis, McDonald’s agreed to restructure its contracting policies (i.e. construction, insurance, suppliers, and franchisee contracts) to include  hiring racial and gender minorities at representative proportions relative to national demographics. Consequently, the decade’s long conflict failed to usher in substantial benefits for everyday, low-income patrons. In unpacking 1970s and 1980s activism, Chatelain leaves the reader to imagine what a different set of political commitments might have meant for poor, black communities in terms of actual neighborhood investment and food security.