A group of Chicago protesters stood defiant outside Koch Foods headquarters in suburban Park Ridge Friday morning, chanting and shouting demands of the chicken processing corporation.
The protesters said Koch Foods “colluded” with immigration enforcement officials to arrest 680 undocumented immigrant workers at their processing plant in Mississippi earlier this month. Protesters accused Koch Foods of orchestrating the raid to retaliate against workers who had filed a lawsuit against the company.
“We’re calling for reparations,” said Rev. Emma Lozano with Lincoln United Methodist Church and Familia Latina Unida.
Friday morning’s protest was organized by the League of United Latin American Citizens and Familia Latina Unida/Centro Sin Fronteras.
Lozano read a list of demands they intended to share with the company. Those demands included money for bail, legal costs, two years worth of severance pay and pension contributions for workers caught in the raid. The protesters also demanded that Koch Foods establish a fund to pay for health care expenses for the children of those workers.
Last year, Koch Foods agreed to pay almost $4 million to settle a lawsuit for alleged racial and sexual harassment. The lawsuit alleged that there was a “hostile work environment” for Latino and female employees. Supervisors at the company were accused of touching and making sexually suggestive comments to Latina employees.
Protesters said President Donald Trump is protecting the owner of Koch Foods.
“[The workers] won a lawsuit against this company for sexual harassment but who comes to the rescue if not the president of the United States,” Lozano shouted. “He’s colluding with this billionaire of this company to get rid of his labor problem.”
Elvira Arellano, a well-known immigration activist who participated in the protest, said she worked for Koch Foods but was ultimately fired because the company was afraid she would organize the workers.
“I asked what did I do? Did I do anything wrong? They just told me the company didn’t need me anymore,” Arellano said.
When protesters tried to enter the Koch Foods headquarters Friday morning to hand-deliver their demands, they were stopped by someone who identified herself as the property manager.
“It’s clear they really don’t want to deal with the public,” said Rev. Walter Coleman with Lincoln United Methodist Church. “We have to remind them that it’s the public that buys their product.”
Protesters said the property manager called Park Ridge police. When police arrived, they gave the protesters a few minutes to leave the property or risk getting arrested.
At least two dozen protesters, including children and teenagers, decided to leave but not before pledging to reach out to businesses that buy poultry from Koch Foods.
“We will begin to talk to those companies that buy their chickens and explain to them that, if they don’t stop buying [Koch Foods] chicken, we won’t deal with those companies,” Coleman said.
The Chicago Tribune has reported that federal agents said Koch Foods had a history of “knowingly hiring” undocumented workers.
Koch Foods did not immediately respond to request for comment.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment for this story. The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.