Byron Allen's attack on McDonald's CEO is a message to Detroit carmakers

Jamie L. LaReau
Detroit Free Press

Media mogul Byron Allen isn't letting up on his campaign to rectify what he says is systemic racism in corporate America.

On Sunday, he ran a full-page advertisement in the Detroit Free Press and Chicago Tribune. On Monday, it ran in the Wall Street Journal. 

In the ad,  which condemns McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski for perpetuating a "toxic racist culture" at the fast-food chain, Allen demands that McDonald's board of directors fire Kempczinski.

Byron Allen, owner of Allen Media Group, in his Los Angeles office in 2018. Allen is pushing General Motors and other corporations to offer economic inclusion to Black-owned companies.

McDonald's did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

But the Service Employees International Union, which has supported McDonald's hourly workers in an ongoing Fight for $15 and a Union campaign, told the Free Press it backs Allen's demand.

"Byron Allen is 100% right in his statements about McDonald's unacceptable toxic, racist culture. Workers in the Fight for $15 and a Union have been sounding the alarm about systemic racism at McDonald’s for years and SEIU has supported their efforts to hold the company accountable every step of the way," Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU,  said in a statement. "I join the call on McDonald's board of directors to remove the President and CEO, Chris Kempczinski, immediately, as one step in the many needed to address the systemic racism workers have decried for years."  

The letter comes amid Allen's continued negotiations with the Detroit  carmakers to win multiyear advertising contracts from them with Allen Media Group and other Black-owned media. Allen said he expects to have negotiations with General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis settled in the next two to three weeks. 

"We communicated our position that they need to lean in and achieve real economic inclusion. It’s not what little can you do, but how much can you do to maximize it and provide real economic inclusion?" Allen told the Free Press on Sunday.

McDonald's and car companies

Allen Media Group is comprised of 32 ABC-NBC-CBS-FOX network affiliate TV stations in 20 U.S. markets. It owns The Weather Channel and a dozen other high-definition TV stations that serve 180 million subscribers. Worth more than $3 billion, the company owns nearly 5% of all TV stations in the U.S.

In May, Allen filed a lawsuit against McDonald's claiming racial discrimination for refusing to advertise with the networks he owns.

Chris Kempczinski, then-incoming president of McDonald's USA, speaks during a presentation on Nov. 17, 2016, at a McDonald's restaurant in New York's Tribeca neighborhood.

The suit is scheduled for trial in fall 2022 and McDonald's has hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to represent it.

"This is an ongoing campaign and chairmen and boards will be held accountable," Allen said. "This speaks to every corporation in America especially the car companies in Detroit."

Discussions underway

In March, Allen led a group of Black-owned media companies in taking aim at GM CEO Mary Barra demanding she meet with them to rectify what they said is systemic racism by spending a disproportionately low amount of GM's ad budget with Black-owned media companies.

In response, GM said it will spend 2% of its advertising budget this year with Black-owned media, double it in 2022 and hit 8% by 2025. GM, like most companies, does not disclose the dollar amount it spends on advertising.

"As part of our effort to transform our approach to diverse-owned media relationships, we are in the process of discussing multiyear contracts with some of our Black-owned media partners," said Pat Morrissey, GM spokesman. "The discussions are underway right now as we review our spending plans for 2022 and beyond. The Allen Media Group and others are part of that process."

Allen's fight has extended to the other two Detroit automakers. Stellantis spokeswoman Shawn Morgan did not offer details of its discussions with Allen, but said Monday the company, "deeply values the dialogue we continue to have with Black-owned media organizations and hopes the conversations have led to a better understanding of our strategy, intentions and challenges. The company has a long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion with one of the most progressive programs to promote economic growth and development for minority-owned suppliers including minority-owned media agencies."

Ford did not immediately provide a comment.

Text message exchange draws ire

Allen's ad in the Free Press specifically called out Kempczinski, who made headlines recently for a text message exchange with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in which he put blame on the parents of two Chicago children fatally shot earlier this year. “With both, the parents failed those kids which I know is something you can’t say. Even harder to fix,” the McDonald's executive wrote.

In a note sent to McDonald’s U.S. corporate employees last week, Kempczinski said he was wrong and his comments "lacked empathy," the Chicago Tribune reported.

More:The real story behind the man taking on GM's Mary Barra in battle over race

More:Byron Allen gets Hollywood star as he negotiates deals with Detroit Three

More:More than 50 former Black franchisees allege racial discriminatory practices against McDonald's in new federal lawsuit

More:McDonald's workers plan one-day strike to protest sexual harassment of employees

Contact Jamie L. LaReau at 313-222-2149 or Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan. Read more on General Motors and sign up for our autos newsletter. Become a subscriber.