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Protests continue at McDonald’s headquarters in West Loop

Graphics by Victoria Williamson

Graphics by Victoria Williamson

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After three weeks of unrest at McDonald’s HQ in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, tensions came to a head on Oct. 5 with more than 50 protestors cited for trespassing, including Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

The protest was organized by Fight for $15, a group dedicated to raising the minimum wage in service industries, but people have been protesting at the headquarters for many reasons this past month, many fighting for the right to unionize or to change the way McDonald’s handles sexual harassment in the workplace after many complaints had been filed nationwide over the past year.

The Chicago Police Department said that 52 people were cited for trespassing at McDonald’s offices, but that no one was taken into police custody.

Fight for $15 estimates that around 1,000 protestors were at the demonstration, although these numbers can’t be confirmed. Video footage posted to the Fight for $15 Facebook page shows protestors outside of the main entrance to the headquarters yelling, “McDonalds, you can’t hide/We can see your greedy side!”

The latest protest comes on the heels of a nationwide walkout in September, where McDonald’s employees in 10 different cities went on strike to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment. According to research by the Restaurant Opportunity Center, 37 percent of all sexual harassment claims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) come from the restaurant industry.

In May, a formal complaint was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, aided by Fight for $15 and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. The complaint represented 10 female workers of color in eight different cities alleging sexual harassment within the workplace. The complaint resulted in the women being ignored, rebuffed or even fired when they tried to report it to their managers.

With the oversight of Fight for $15, protests have shifted to include more broad interests. Despite the fact that the fast food industry has shied away from employee unions for decades, workers are now fighting for their right to unionize and make a fair wage, in more cities than just Chicago. Demonstrations also took place at McDonald’s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Detroit, Michigan and San Jose, California.

“I’m proud to support workers in the Fight for $15 who are striking and protesting all across the country today for union rights,” Rep. Schakowsky said in a public statement. The congresswoman’s district covers areas of the North Side, Uptown and some north and northwest suburban communities.

“We have strong policies, procedures and training in place specifically designed to prevent sexual harassment,” McDonald’s said in a statement on Tuesday. “To ensure we are doing all that can be done, we have engaged experts in the areas of prevention and response including, RAINN, to evolve our policies so everyone who works at McDonald’s does so in a secure environment every day.”

Although McDonald’s just opened their new West Loop headquarters in May 2018, the location has been dogged by protests ever since. With the demolition of the iconic arches of the Rock n Roll McDonalds in River North, it makes sense the new headquarters would be a point of protests. As America’s most iconic fast food chain, with deep roots in the city of Chicago, these latest protests are a chapter in the long history between the two entities.

“I guess it wasn’t really what I was expecting when I moved into the area, or at least I hadn’t thought of or predicted,” said Claudia Ramos, who just purchased a condo down the block from McDonald’s headquarters in the past year. “But it makes sense and I understand why they’re protesting so I’m glad they have a place to do it. To me at least it’s no inconvenience.”

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Protests continue at McDonald’s headquarters in West Loop