Since the texts surfaced, there have been renewed calls from McDonald’s restaurant workers, community organizations and unions asking the company to address workplace issues, ranging from sexual harassment to racial discrimination. The company has already faced several lawsuits claiming racial discrimination from former employees, customers and franchisees, including media mogul Byron Allen, who called for Kempczinski to resign shortly after the texts were revealed last week.
The ad campaign, which began Monday and is paid for by the Service Employees International Union, calls for Kempczinski to meet with McDonald’s Black and Latino workers, as well as local community leaders, to devise a plan for how Kempczinski and the company will address systemic racism and other issues at the company.
The campaign follows an open letter that 15 activist and union organizations penned to Kempczinski on Nov. 3, which reads, in part: “Mr. Kempczinski, it’s clear what you say in private does not match what your company claims in public ... tweets and advertising cannot hide the deep-seated racism laid bare in your text message to the mayor. As the leader of one of the world’s largest private employers and most iconic brands, you have a responsibility to do so much better.”
In the letter, unions and activists asked to meet with Kempczinski by Nov. 10. The radio and TV ads will be seen or heard in English and Spanish on WLS-AM 890, WBBM Newsradio, Fox’s WFLD, NBC’s WMAQ and WGN.
McDonald’s declined to comment.
Over the weekend, Kempczinski sent a 6-minute apology video internally to McDonald’s employees.
“Those comments were wrong and I’m sorry,” Kempczinski said in the video. “I have, through my background, a very narrow worldview that doesn’t fully appreciate others who have different perspectives, different experiences, and so my comments to Mayor Lightfoot revealed that ignorance and they revealed that very narrow worldview that I now have to work hard to correct.
“Part of what I feel so badly about is my comments have compounded the grief Adam Toledo’s family and Jaslyn Adams’ family have already experienced,” he continued.
Kempczinski went on to say that he hopes to meet with each family to apologize in person, as well as community leaders.
His texts were made public last week through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Vancouver-based Michael Kessler and Lucy Parsons Labs. On Nov. 3, workers at local McDonald’s restaurants, as well as activists, protested at McDonald’s headquarters in Fulton Market. About 50 people showed up, said Baltazar Enriquez, the president of the Little Village Community Council, who was at the protest.
'We are the working poor'
“We want to hold McDonald’s accountable for the comment (Kempczinski) made,” said Enriquez, 42. “We also want to hold them accountable for the treatment of their employees.”
Aside from denouncing Kempczinski’s latest comments, Enriquez and the Little Village Community Council have advocated for local McDonald’s employees to receive higher pay and benefits. The minimum wage in Chicago is currently $15 per hour.
“We are the working poor,” Enriquez said. “We have to change that.”
If Kempczinski, who made $10.8 million in 2020, agrees to a meeting, Enriquez said the unions and other organizations plan to ask McDonald’s to raise wages, provide benefits for all employees and help fund community programs on Chicago’s South and West sides.
“Hopefully he is willing to bring in real concrete solutions and not just empty words,” Enriquez said.
Adriana Alvarez, 29, lives in and works at a McDonald’s restaurant in Cicero, Illinois. Over the course of her 11-year tenure at the company, Alvarez said she has advocated for higher wages and paid sick time. She has been a vocal leader in the local chapter of Fight for $15, a nationwide movement aimed at raising wages for fast-food and other low-wage workers to $15 per hour. She has also led unsuccessful unionizing efforts for local McDonald’s workers.
Based on the workplace culture she’s witnessed at McDonald’s, Alvarez said she wasn’t surprised at Kempczinski’s comments last week.
“McDonald’s is obviously not the best place to work at,” said Alvarez, the mother of a 9-year-old son. “(Kempczinski) is brushing things under the rug all the time in regards to McDonald’s, and he wants to sit there and judge someone? What he said was very unacceptable and he knows it.”