A coalition of workers and activists demand that McDonald’s fire its CEO

McDonald’s CEO protest
McDonald's employees and members of community groups march along Randolph Street to a protest outside the company's headquarters on Wednesday, Nov. 3. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang / WBEZ News
McDonald’s CEO protest
McDonald's employees and members of community groups march along Randolph Street to a protest outside the company's headquarters on Wednesday, Nov. 3. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang / WBEZ News

A coalition of workers and activists demand that McDonald’s fire its CEO

McDonald’s workers and advocates are calling for the company’s board of directors to fire CEO Chris Kempczinski and take steps to address systemic racism at the restaurant chain.

A congressman from Chicago is also calling for the CEO’s ouster.

A coalition of McDonald’s workers and a dozen groups says it plans to send a letter to the McDonald’s board Thursday morning, after Kempczinski failed to acknowledge its initial demands for a meeting with Black and brown workers and community groups. The letter, obtained by WBEZ, calls for the board to fire Kempczinski and to address issues of racial equity by increasing wages and investing in the vulnerable communities where many of the company’s restaurants are located.

The news comes a week after WBEZ first reported on a text exchange between the CEO and Mayor Lori Lightfoot in which he blamed the shootings of two slain Chicago children, 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams and 13-year-old Adam Toledo, on their parents.

Kempczinski has since apologized for his remarks. According to media reports, he expressed remorse in one nearly six-minute video from the McDonald’s headquarters. In the video, Kempczinski said, “Those comments were wrong, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I let you down. And I let myself down,” according to the trade publication Restaurant Business, which viewed the video.

Media reports said Kempczinski’s remarks were sent to some U.S. employees, operators and suppliers for the restaurant chain. The Wall Street Journal reported that the CEO had also spoken with Black franchisees, as well as with “Chicago community leaders.”

However, Chicago-area employees that are part of the coalition said they have not heard from Kempczinski nor have they been given the opportunity to view the apology video. They said the apologies were mainly directed to corporate employees and sent to a few news outlets.

McDonald’s employee Adriana Alvarez, who works and lives in west suburban Cicero, said neither she nor the other workers who sent the first letter have been privy to any of the written or video apologies, as they do not have corporate email addresses

“Kempczinski is making apologies to corporate bigwigs, but frontline workers haven’t heard a word from him,” said Alvarez, who has worked at the restaurant for 11 years. “It’s just more proof that McDonald’s doesn’t care about workers like me or the communities where we live.”

Donald Jenkins, who has worked at McDonalds on and off for more than 20 years, said he has not heard any communication from his manager about Kempczinski’s apology.

“I feel like the apology was really a way to make the corporation look better,” Jenkins said. “He really don’t know what’s going on in our communities.”

Also, the groups that sought a meeting with Kempczinski addressing the text exchange said they were not among the “Chicago community leaders” with whom the CEO has met.

The coalition’s letter to the board, signed by groups such as the Chicago Fight for 15, Little Village Community Council, and the Poor People’s Campaign, says, “While Kempczinski has now addressed his racist comment with corporate employees at least three times, he hasn’t once acknowledged our demand for a meeting. A 6-minute apology video produced by crisis PR consultants delivered only to corporate HQ employees and elite media doesn’t cut it.”

It continues: “It’s clear to us that Kempczinski can’t fix McDonald’s problems with race because he is himself part of the problem.”

In the letter, the coalition also asks the board to take specific steps to address systemic racism at the company, including upping the minimum wage at its restaurants to $15 per hour throughout the U.S.; seeding a $200 million fund that invests in schools, clinics and early childhood care programs; and establishing a new committee to help improve working conditions in Chicago’s McDonald’s locations.

WBEZ reached out to McDonald’s with questions about why Kempczinski has not directly contacted restaurant workers and other coalition members, and which specific Chicago community leaders with whom the CEO has met. The company has yet to respond.

Workers and advocates said they are planning a rally Thursday to call attention to their demands.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush, D-Chicago, released a statement calling for Kempczinski’s firing.

Rush said in the statement, “Sadly, McDonald’s has a long history of racist behavior and discrimination, which ongoing legal action continues to reveal. McDonald’s would not be the multinational corporation it is today if not for the Black customer base that has long provided — and continues to provide — enormous profits.”

He continued: “The Black community deserves and demands far better responses and far better treatment from McDonald’s and its top leaders.”

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.