Retired Chicago businessman Ed Gardner wants city, contractors to hire more blacks

September 24, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Gardner, the multi-millionaire former owner of the Soft Sheen hair care empire, is protesting the lack of African-American workers on taxpayer-funded road repair jobs as well as private construction projects in neighborhoods where blacks live and shop.

"They allow us to sell drugs and kill one another for the promise of drugs, yet they won't employ us in the black community," he said.

The 87-year-old World War II veteran led followers to nearby Evergreen Park, where private contractors have hired no visible African Americans to help build Menards and Meijer stores.

"If we are going to go into your stores to purchase your goods, we should be able also to build your project up as well," said Omar Shareef, African American Contractors Association.

"I don't see one black person employed here...not one," said Gardner.

Evergreen Park police did not press trespassing charges.

"We've checked with the company and they have stated they do not want to sign any criminal complaints at this time," said Chief Michael Saunders, Evergreen Park police.

The protest began last week when demonstrators pointed out the lack of African Americans on crews hired by private companies with city contracts to repair 95th Street.

As the protest raged, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city had stepped up its minority contracting effort and noted the prime contractor on the 95th Street project is an Asian American.

"If there's a subcontractor not abiding by the law, they won't be a subcontractor much longer," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

But Gardner says the issue is not minority contractors. It's African-American workers.

"If the mayor says he saw blacks out there working in the proper proportion to our population, then he's lying and I will tell him he's lying," said Gardner.

The general contractor in control of the Evergreen Park construction was unavailable for comment.

Mr. Gardner vows to resume his protest at both sites Tuesday.

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