CHATHAM — Last week, millionaire businessman and Soft Sheen Products founder Edward Gardner met Mayor Rahm Emanuel asking for more jobs for blacks in Chicago.
On Saturday, he took his message to South Side workers who are looking to work with the CTA.
"I am trying to meet with [CTA officials] to see where they are on hiring black folks to work on the Red Line project next year," Gardner said Monday. "This train runs through nothing but black communities on the South Side so it would be unimaginable if very few blacks were hired to rebuild the train tracks."
According to Catherine Hosenski, a spokeswoman for the CTA, 400 bus drivers are needed to shuttle passengers during the rehab project, which begins May 2013 and is expected to end December 2013. To date, 33 bus drivers have been hired and 30 are black, she said.
In a meeting Saturday with 100 black construction workers, Gardner laid out his plans for helping them get jobs.
"My fight for equality will not end until I start to see more black folks working at construction sites in Chicago, and not just those holding up signs," Gardner said. "I want also to see black folks managing projects too."
Mark Kirkland has been looking for construction work for at least a year, but so far has had no luck.
"I have worked construction for 27 years and I love it," Kirkland said. "My father was a construction worker and got me started into the business. I have applied everywhere including outside Chicago but no one seems to be hiring."
The meeting, which took place at BJ's Market & Bakery, 8734 S. Stony Island Ave., was organized by the Coalition of African American Leaders, and attended by former U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, who lives in Chatham.
"I support what Mr. Gardner is trying to do. I too have noticed very few blacks working at construction sites in my own neighborhood," Burris said. "(And) from the looks of this meeting it doesn't appear that there's any shortage of black workers either."
Mayoral Press Secretary Tarrah Cooper said Emanuel appreciated Gardner's views and respected what he was trying to do.
"The two (Gardner and Emanuel) agreed to continue to collaborate to ensure African-Americans have equal opportunities to work with the city," Cooper said via email.
Until something opens up in the city, Kirkland is working as a custodian at a south suburban restaurant to make ends meet.
"It may not be construction work but at least it's a job," he said.
Gardner plans to meet CTA officials about their hiring later this week.