Fast food workers and local families rallied at the West Side McDonald’s where 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams was shot and killed in April to demand the company fire its top executive.
McDonald’s came under fire when a text sent from CEO Chris Kempczinski to Mayor Lori Lightfoot implied the deaths of Jaslyn Adams and 13-year-old Adam Toledo were the fault of bad parenting. Organizers are calling for McDonald’s to replace Kempczinski as well as improve conditions for the company’s workers.
“The CEO of the company, he said a racist comment. He’s for himself and his corporation. He’s not here for the workers and the kids,” said Lawndale resident Kintrell Hughes.
It was inappropriate for the CEO to blame the family who fell victim to violence, rather than the social conditions like disinvestment and poverty that are at the root of crime in the area, Hughes said.
The messages were especially harmful since McDonald’s markets heavily toward Black and Latino people and profits from those communities where there are countless loyal customers, Hughes said. The debacle exposes a lack of understanding of the circumstances surrounding the violence on the West Side and a deep disconnect between McDonald’s leadership and the communities where they do business, protesters said.
Organizers are demanding a $15 minimum wage for all employees nationwide, a $200 million fund for supporting Chicago’s communities, and for the creation of a committee dedicated to improving work conditions for McDonald’s employees.
The inflammatory texts were sent after Kempczinski met with the mayor at the company’s headquarters in April, and the messages were recently released through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“With both, the parents failed those kids which I know is something you can’t say. Even harder to fix,” Kempczinski said in the text to the mayor.
Adams was killed while getting a Happy Meal with her father from the drive-thru. Police suspected the shooting may have been gang-related.
Toledo was killed by a Chicago Police officer in March after a foot chase. Initially holding a gun, Toledo dropped the weapon and held up his hands before the officer shot him, a video of the chase showed.
Kempczinski has since apologized for the statements. But community groups including Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, the Movement for Black Lives, the Little Village Community Council and St. Agatha Catholic Church say an apology is not enough.
“We gather together to raise our voices and the voices of our community to challenge those in power at McDonald’s to open their minds and hearts to truly regard their employees with the same or even better regard than their profits,” said Rev. Larry Dowling, pastor at St. Agatha Church.
The statement from McDonald’s top executive is just one symptom of deeper issues of racial injustice within the company, the protesters said. McDonald’s has been sued several times in recent years by employees, franchise owners and Black members of the company’s leadership team for racial discrimination.
Those issues, which include low wages, unsafe working conditions and racial discrimination against cooks and cashiers, cannot be fixed with a CEO at the helm who perpetuates racist tropes, the protesters said.
“It’s clear to us that Chris Kempczinski can’t fix McDonald’s problems with race because Chris Kempczinski is himself part of the problem,” the community groups wrote in a statement.
Kempczinski is in no position to criticize struggling parents for the violence they face since “he can’t relate because he is wealthy and we are not,” McDonald’s employee Adriana Sanchez said.
Companies like McDonald’s that pay low wages make it tough for parents to protect their kids since they have to work long hours just to make ends meet, Sanchez said.
“We as parents, we have to work two jobs and leave our children alone sometimes or in the care of other people. With a salary like this, it’s not enough to support our families,” Sanchez said.
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