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Businessman Leads Protest To Demand Black Construction Jobs

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About 1,000 protesters marched on Western Avenue and 95th Street, along the border between Chicago and Evergreen Park, to protest the lack of black workers on local construction crews, including two recent projects near that location. (Credit: CBS)

About 1,000 protesters marched on Western Avenue and 95th Street, along the border between Chicago and Evergreen Park, to protest the lack of black workers on local construction crews, including two recent projects near that location. (Credit: CBS)

Dana Kozlov Dana Kozlov
Dana Kozlov is a general assignment reporter for CBS 2 Chicago. She...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Legendary South Side business owner Ed Gardner on Sunday was once again protesting the lack of black workers on local construction crews, leading about 1,000 demonstrators supporting his cause.

CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports Gardner and his supporters marched down 95th Street in the Beverly neighborhood to the construction site of a new shopping center in neighboring Evergreen Park, demanding more African Americans be hired on work crews.

Gardner, 87, led a similar, but smaller protest, at the same sites more than a week ago, after noticing not a single black worker was on the road construction crew working along 95th Street in Beverly, or at the nearby shopping mall project in Evergreen Park.

That frustration led to Gardner’s call for hundreds of people to show up for Sunday’s protest. About 1,000 people stopped traffic on Western Avenue and 95th Street as they demanded more jobs for black workers on local construction crews.

“If we don’t work, nobody works,” protesters chanted as they marched in the street.

Gardner, the legendary businessman who built the Soft Sheen hair products company from scratch before selling it for millions, was flanked by a handful of prominent Chicago leaders, including U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL). The group marched from 95th Street just east of Western Avenue to 91st Street and Western, then back again Sunday afternoon.

They then swarmed the intersection of 95th and Western, halting traffic.

Union construction worker Cheryl Copeland said, “I’ve got 24 hours this year, and I’m about to lose all my benefits. I’m a union laborer, 19 years’ experience.”

Prominent criminal defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. joined the marchers on Sunday.

“I’m out here to support the workers that want to come out here and work. There’s this idea that there’s a laziness in the community. That’s simply not true, and that’s why I’m out here to support the young African-American workers, the ones that are trained and skilled,” Adam said.

Earlier this week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he would look into companies with city contracts, to make sure they are following the city’s guidelines for hiring protocols.

“There are clear goals, and nobody can violate them. And there are clear goals for the city, because they reflect good economics, and good policy, and those are our policies as a city,” Emanuel said Monday. “If there’s a subcontractor not abiding by the law, they won’t be a subcontractor much longer.”

But many of the protesters on Sunday said talk is not enough, and they will continue to speak out about jobs in the African-American community.

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said Monday that any abuse or fraud of the minority contracting program is not tolerated and companies who violate city policies will be swiftly penalized.

Government hiring rules don’t apply to private projects, like the Evergreen Park shopping center, but Gardner said his point and protest were the same — that more African American workers should be hired to work on construction crews in the Chicago area, especially for projects in black communities.

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