CHATHAM — A millionaire black businessman from Chatham met Tuesday with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to discuss how the city could hire more black construction workers.
Edward Gardner, founder of the hair care company Soft Sheen Products Co., said after noticing no black workers at a construction site in south suburban Evergreen Park last month, he began paying attention to construction sites in Chicago.
"I want to see black men and women working on all construction sites throughout the city of Chicago," he said. "Chicago can be an example of what changes have to be made to see that African Americans get their share of contracts in this city."
He added that he had been prepared to lead a protest outside City Hall this week had the mayor not met with him.
After founding Soft Sheen in 1964 Gardner sold the business, previously headquartered in Chatham, to L'Oreal S.A. in 1998.
Among the construction projects Gardner, 87, singled out was the upcoming renovations to the Red Line from Cermak/Chinatown to 95th Street. The project, which will shut down the entire Red Line going south, begins May 2013 and is expected to be completed by December 2013.
Catherine Hosinski, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Transit Authority, said blacks were not being cut out of the Red Line project.
"So far, 33 part-time bus operators have been hired (to shuttle passengers during the renovation) and of these, 30 are African American, two Hispanics and one Caucasian," she said. "(And of jobs allocated to minority owned businesses thus far) 60.6 percent are going to African American firms, 23.8 percent Hispanic firms, 12.1 percent women-owned firms, and 3.5 percent Asian firms."
A total of 400 part-time bus operators are needed, and Hosinski said the CTA was currently accepting applications. Once the project is complete all part-time bus operators would be hired full-time, she added.
Mayoral Press Secretary Tarrah Cooper confirmed the mayor and Gardner met at City Hall and said they "had a positive meeting in which a variety of topics were discussed" including the Red Line project.
Cooper said Gardner agreed to help the mayor encourage black businesses to bid on city contracts and even thanked the mayor for investing in infrastructure throughout the black community.
Now, Gardner said the ball was in the mayor's court.
"We will give the mayor a chance to move forward and show me, not by words but by action," added Gardner.