Police claimed they had “authorization from the president of McDonald’s” to arrest protesting fast food workers, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed on Wednesday against the city of Memphis, Tennessee.
The suit alleges that local police engaged in a “widespread and illegal campaign of surveillance and intimidation” against a local chapter of the Fight for $15 fast-food worker organization as it campaigned for an increase in the minimum wage and union rights for fast food workers.
Officers followed organizers home after meetings, ordered workers not to sign petitions and blacklisted organizers from city hall, according to the suit. They claimed to have been authorized by McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast food chain, and in one incident a McDonald’s franchisee joined police in tailing protesters.
The suit alleges that a campaign of harassment began after Memphis workers participated in a nationwide day of protest on 4 September 2014. Since then, police officers have repeatedly threatened workers with arrest during protests, at one point telling them they had “authorization from the president of McDonald’s to make arrests”. On “multiple occasions” officers “seemed to take direction from McDonald’s”, the complaint charges.
Last November, police officers stepped behind the counter of a fast-food restaurant to prevent workers from signing petitions calling for better working conditions, the protesters’ lawyers claim. They also allege that officers have enforced local permit laws on the predominantly black workers in the Fight for $15, while allowing protests by mostly white crowds to continue unabated.
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