A group of Australians against a McDonald's restaurant scheduled to be built in their tiny Melbourne suburb took to the fast food giant's Oak Brook headquarters Wednesday in protest of the plan.
Five villagers from Tecoma, which has about 2,000 residents, delivered a petition to McDonald's home office with 97,000 plus signatures, essentially telling the company to "beef off" and drop its plan to construct a 24-hour restaurant in their town. Residents are up in arms about the planned McDonald's for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it is set to be built next door to a preschool and would be very close to the Dandenong Ranges, a protected national park.
"The McDonald's who so proudly purport on their website that they are community-minded, that they work with communities, they respect communities. The behavior we're experiencing is the absolute antithesis of that," said Tecoma resident Peta Freema. "They've shown us none of that."
Australian grassroots organizers have been working to stop the chain from setting up shop in their town ever since McDonald's applied to build the restaurant back in 2011. About 1,200 residents sent written objections to the city council, which unanimously shot down the development plans in 2011.
But McDonald's later took the case to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), which overruled the city council's decision. VCAT's ruling gave McDonald's the green light to build the restaurant.
Freema said the majority of Tecoma residents are against the planned restaurant, and noted that there are already four McDonald's locations about a 10- to 15-minute drive from their suburb.
"It's not needed," she stressed. "Respect the community."
Tecoma resident Garry Muratore said he came to the Chicago area to let McDonald's CEO Don Thompson know the company's behavior in Australia is "unethical".
"They're suing people. They're intimidating people," Muratore said. "We've had private investigators following us around. This is not the way that a corporation should behave."
Here's more from Muratore:
Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, vice president of global external communications at McDonald's, told the protestors that the company “respectfully accepts” their petitions.
And in response to the allegation that the company has taken legal action against Tecoma residents, Sa Shekhem said, "We've only done legal protection from the folks who put themselves in danger," referring to people who have trespassed on the construction site.
While talking with reporters, Sa Shekhem noted that despite the petitions and other protests the group has planned, the project is moving forward. The restaurant's construction is slated to be complete by mid-2014, she said.
"We're very comfortable with the site," she said. "A lot of due diligence and research goes into sites when McDonald's opens restaurants to make sure that there's customer support."
But according to the activists, nearly 93 percent of Tecoma residents oppose the restaurant. That's based on a door-to-door survey community members conducted six months ago, Freema said.
"Despite having the evidence in their hands, they still claim that they have overwhelming support within the community, which is incredibly frustrating," Freema said.
Sa Shekhem said the validity of the survey is questionable, and added that "dozens" of people from Tecoma have contacted McDonald's home office in support of the restaurant. Other supporters reportedly reached out to McDonald's Australia, but Sa Shekhem did not provide more specifics on that claim.
McDonald's also wants to make it clear, Sa Shekhem said, that the space where it plans to locate in Tecoma, at Burwood Highway and Sandells Road, is a commercialized area with existing businesses, including a 24-hour gas station.
“The narrative that the group is putting out there is that it’s a forest preserve area," she continued. "In reality, it’s a commercialized zone."
Additionally, the site's local franchisee James Currie met with Muratore and some of the activists in April. As such, McDonald's feels “very satisfied that their views have been heard,” Sa Shekhem added.
Nonetheless, Tacoma resident Melinda Carey says the company did not take community concerns into account.
"I know that they think they'll keep pushing, and we'll eventually give up, [but] we won't ever give up. Never," she said. "We live there."