Soft Sheen Founder Ed Gardner Pushes for More Black Construction Workers in Chicago

Ed Gardner, the 87-year-old founder of Soft Sheen, is using his prominence to become an activist for African-American jobs, meeting with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel this week to push for more black construction workers to be used around the city after Gardner noticed their woeful lack.

Gardner’s activism came after he was crossing a South Side construction site last month and saw no black workers on the job. Gardner got so upset that he stuck his cane in the wet cement that was being poured to make his point. The business leader—who founded Soft Sheen in 1964 and sold it to L’Oreal in 1998—started making noise about what he saw, leading to protests that temporarily halted jobs around the South Side, such as at a shopping center in Evergreen Park and a city sidewalk project in the Beverly neighborhood, both projects that Gardner said had no black workers.

On Sept. 30, Gardner led about 1,000 people, including Chicago Congressmen Danny K. Davis and Bobby L. Rush, in a protest that stopped traffic near the site of the earlier protests.

The protests did their job, forcing Mayor Emanuel to address the issue during a news conference. Emanuel pointed out the jobs that have been created in transportation and the numbers of minority- and women-owned businesses that have been hired to do the work. But Emanuel said blame also needed to be directed at the unions and the lack of training they’re providing minority workers.

Emanuel agreed to meet with Gardner to talk specifics.

In his report to the media, Gardner said he told Emanuel, “It must be corrected. I told the mayor, as far as I’m concerned, he is totally and finally responsible to seeing that this situation is corrected.”

Though there’s no law that requires it, Gardner said he would like to see half the construction jobs in the city go to black workers.

“Whatever the laws and rules are, the mayor has a responsibility,” Gardner told CBS. “If they’re preventing black Afro-Americans from getting their fair share of job opportunity, that is his responsibility to see that it’s changed.”

Gardner said he got a good feeling from Emanuel.

“The mayor seems to show some sign of being concerned about making a change. That’s all I’m concerned about, that things are not like they have been for the past many, many years in the city of Chicago,” Gardner said.

He also tied the lack of jobs with violence in the black community.

Emanuel announced yesterday that he would be adding 500 police officers to curtail the rising violence among African Americans that has brought national attention to Chicago.

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