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South Side Businessman Vows To Keep Up Minority Contract Fight

Ed Gardner with CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine. (CBS)

Ed Gardner with CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — The South Side businessman who on Monday shut down two construction sites over the lack of black workers is vowing to keep up the pressure.

Soft Sheen products founder Ed Gardner tells CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine he’s calling for a rally this Sunday.

“We’re asking for 10,000 blacks to be on 95th and Western,” he said. That’s the construction site where Gardner found a virtually all-Latino workforce pouring and finishing concrete on a city curb and gutter project.

“Latinos in the middle of the black community, doing the construction work; and right down the street at 95th and Wentworth, young black boys are selling and buying drugs,” Gardner said.

The city’s contractor on that job, Sumit Construction, is itself a minority-owned business; in this case, Asian American. Sumit’s owner confirmed that there were just two African-American laborers working there.

“We regret we don’t have more black workers,” he said. “But when we call the cement finishers union, they say, ‘We don’t have any black cement finishers.'”

CBS 2 called the union to ask why. They haven’t called back.

“And I’m supposed to stand by and say nothing about it and the Mayor should not be as upset as I am?” Gardner said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city needs to make sure it’s meeting its minority hiring obligations.

“Ed Gardner and I share similar goals for the city, as it relates to making sure we’re achieving our goals for minority- and women-owned businesses; clear goals for the city, and any violator will be punished,” the mayor said.

And in fact, while speaking with Gardner this afternoon, Vance Henry, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, showed up to ask him to come over to City Hall to talk about the issue.

“Here’s my card,” Henry said. “I’m right across the street at City Hall.”

The question now is whether there are skilled African-American workers to fill those jobs.

The mayor has made apprentice programs and college-to-career education priorities during his first term.

Gardner — the 87-year-old self-made millionaire, who’s clearly earned a comfortable retirement — has vowed to continue the fight until blacks get their fair share of the work.

The minority contractor on that South Side city project does not appear to be violating any hiring guidelines. The only requirement for hiring workers is that 50 percent of the workers be city residents–regardless of race.