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TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 25, 2012
6:30 AM -- Local unemployed Black construction workers assemble at 92nd & Western construction site demonstrating that qualified Black workers are prepare to work
12:00 Noon -- Ed Gardner returns to construction site to determine if he will call for another shut down of the site
Ed Gardner sticks cane in fresh cement, shuts down work site Vows to return today with black men ready to work
By Chinta Strausberg
Making good his promise to return and shut down several construction sites void of black workers, humanitarian and retired businessman Ed Gardner Monday stuck his cane in wet cement at an Evergreen Park work site to protest the lack of African American workers.
The 87-year-old Gardner will be back today with an even larger group including one led by Bob Israel, President of the “Save Our Community Coalition,” along with Omar Shareef, founder of African American Contractors Association, Eddie Read, chairman of the Chicago Black United Communities (CBUC), Mark Allen, chairman of the National Black Wall Street Chicago, and other groups who are supporting Gardner’s demand that blacks be placed on all public works projects.
Last Friday, Gardner drove by a group of black men selling drugs just blocks away from a construction site at 2210 W. 95th where there were no African American workers. He kept his promise and returned Monday where he confronted the workers and stopped the pouring of concrete. “If these young black men had a job, perhaps they wouldn’t be forced to sell drugs,” Gardner said. Gardner left the 2210 W. 95th site feeling comfortable that he had shut down that site, but he later learned it was a temporary victory since those workers returned after he left. Gardner went over to another construction site at 92nd and Western site that is much larger and again has virtually no black workers.
While Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters the prime contractor at the 95th and Western site that stretches back to 92nd is Asian American and vowed to crack down on subcontractors who are not following the law, Gardner said the mayor doesn’t understand that “this is not about the law but about economic justice and parity for African Americans.” At the 92nd and Western site, an African American truck driver kept pouring the cement though Gardner and his supporters told him to stop. Read and others lifted Mr. Gardner up to where they were pouring the concrete.
Gardner walked over to the pit and stuck his cane into the freshly poured cement demanding that the man stop pouring the cement. When the driver began to continue pouring the cement, a white man came over and told him to stop and to leave the area. Allen took a piece of plastic and cleaned Gardner’s cane but another activist took a piece of concrete where Gardner’s shoe had touched and saved it as a souvenir. Gardner is revered as a hero to the black and progressive communities having heavily financed the successful mayoral campaign for the then Congressman Harold Washington who became Chicago’s first black mayor in 1983 and re-elected in 1987.
After he takes his ailing wife to the doctor, Gardner vowed to return today around noon with an even larger group of protesters including one led by Bob Israel, President of the “Save Our Community Coalition,” who along with Omar Shareef, founder of African American Contractors Association, Eddie Read, chairman of the Chicago Black United Communities (CBUC) and other groups who are supporting his demand that blacks be placed on all public works projects. Israel, who will have his men at the 92nd and Western site at 6:30 a.m. dressed for work, called Gardner a man who is “angel sent.” “I’m being told that they (black elected officials) are being paid off by these contractors,” Israel charged. “Mr. Gardner has his own money, and he is not looking for a check or a pay off.”
Israel said he and his group will soon exposed the D-2 (campaign forms) of black elected officials he alleges “are being bought off” with campaign contributions from construction companies allegedly in exchange for their silence on the lack of black workers at these construction sites across the city. Israel said it is hard for a black man to get hired on these construction sites. “They tell us we are supposed to have union cards, but some of those Europeans have green cards. They aren’t supposed to be working in the country, and some of them don’t even speak English. I don’t know how they filled out an application,” said Israel who has been monitoring the 92nd and Western site since last May.
Referring to the black man who drove the cement truck at 92nd and Western, Israel said he doesn’t work on that site and is only there for a few minutes a day. He’s going back to this site at 6:30 a.m. today with several black men ready to work. Read agreed that Gardner “is a gift from God” and praised his “incredible commitment to this community. We are so glad to have him lift his voice, but it is also very sad that at the age of 87 he has to come out in the community to take a stand like this just to get people to be serious” about addressing the problem of blacks and unemployment at these public works sites.
Referring to when he earlier helped Mr. Gardner up to where a black man was pouring concrete at 92nd and Western, Read said, “We urged this brother not to do it, but he did and when Mr. Gardner took his cane, this 87-year-old black man who stuck it into the concrete, told the man ‘you will not pour any more concrete at this site.’ I put his arms around him.” “There was something very spiritual and surreal watching Mr. Gardner do that,” said Read afterwards. Reacting to the black cement driver, Read said, “All through our history, there are always those among us who either do not understand or respect the work that we try to do…. Mr. Gardner…I…we took a stand…” and the man pulled away.
WE CAN, INC. President Florence Cox was elated at Gardner’s bold stand for economic justice. “I think it is admirable for him to take this on especially at his advanced years. I think it is unfortunate that other men in the neighborhood have not taken it upon themselves to step up the way Mr. Gardner has. I hope that the community would stand with him. I commend the people who stepped up with him,” said Cox. Allen, who joined Gardner at both sites, said “We had already scared a lot of the worker’s off the job when we arrived at the 2210 site. Allen and other activists stood by the cement truck and told the driver “you are not going to pour anything else.” The truck left and Allen said at least he saw two black men working there who were not present last Friday.
Well, it turned out that Gardner and his supporters only temporarily shutdown the 2210 W. 95th Street site. There were two black men at this site one holding up a “STOP” sign, the other held a “SLOW” sign. All the others were Latinos who were pouring cement. The truck had returned after Gardner, who was accompanied by Francis Wright from the Black-on-Black Love program, left. Gardner said he’s going back there Tuesday to see if blacks are on the job. Harold Jackson, 59, a Local 502 cement finisher, said, “I just saw one black brother holding a flag….” Unemployed, Jackson said, “We haven’t been able to get work and I am in a union for the past ten years and some for 25-years yet they can’t get work on these jobs,” he told this reporter. “They say there is no work out here for us, but they are coming from Indiana” to get these jobs. “ Last year, Jackson had to go to Indiana to get a job. “A lot of (black) guys have been in the union for 20, 30-years but they can’t get a job. They don’t have anyone to speak up for them,” Jackson said. “If you drive all over this city, you can count on your fingers the number of blacks on these jobs.” But Jackson had some advice for young black men. “Young black men have to be willing to do for themselves. They have to get this mindset out of their heads that they an go out here and sell drugs, that they don’t have to go to school. They want to think this fast life is what it is and when you get caught up in the system, they will hold that against you.
People with an education are having a hard time finding a job,” he said. Yvette Moyo, from Real Men Cook, said, “It’s about families being healthy and happy and you can’t be healthy and happy if you can’t work. When we pass by these construction sites every day and we have our sons, nephews and husbands who can’t find jobs because these jobs just digging in the ground are not available to us. It doesn’t make sense,” she said in support of Gardner’s vow to fight for a slice of the contractual pie for black men. While Gardner honestly thought he had shut down the 2210 W. 95th St. site, the workers returned an hour later. One black man, David Scott, a laborer with Local 4, who held up a “STOP” sign, said, “They wanted to show some color on this site because there was a big complaint Friday; so they asked us to come from Jeffery over here. Scott said the construction company called him last night to be at the 2210 site. Scott said, “I got here because I marched with the coalition. I’ve been in the union since 1996. The union isn’t doing their job because how could all of these Hispanics be out here.”
Just then, the cement truck backed up to resume pouring cement, and the Hispanic workers began smoothing out the cement on the sidewalks. The Skokie, Illinois subcontractor could not be reached for comment. Another black man, Yasir Zarif, a laborer who held up “SLOW” sign, said, “I’m going to meet with the boss man. They called me about 30-minutes ago.” Zarif said he isn’t “hating on nobody. They (the Hispanics) work hard. I work hard, too, but we need equal opportunity but they work hard so what can you say.”
But, Tom Harris called the quick hiring or placement of the two blacks at the 2210 W. 95th St. site “outrageous and intentional.” He added, “They are putting us all and our kids in the penitentiaries. That’s a slave trade. They are working for major corporations at 10-cent, 15-cents an hour…. Harris, of Local 944, said his group, which has its own union, a training camp, a boot camp and the apprentice ship program. He said the Illinois Department of Transportation has allegedly refused to sign a project labor agreement so they can be represented in the workplace. Harris said his group has gone to the City Council Black Caucus asking to help them to become signatures to any project labor agreements in Chicago. Harris said they are a legitimate union.
When asked the next step, Harris said, “We are going to do an informational picket against the governor, the city, country, everybody. We want to be protected. It’s our tax dollars and our neighborhoods and we should do the work because we ain’t no minority while we’re sleep and pay all the taxes. That’s our fight. “We want the young guys on the street to come on and make the fight with us because they ain’t scared. They need a life and if we can’t give them a life, it’s over. They already put the dope on us already and they’ve destroyed two generations of kids and families and neighborhoods. You see abandoned buildings and vacant lots and everybody coming in developing but us and that is no good. They got to see us stand up and fight for them…,” said Harris.
Rev. Andre Smith, pastor of the First Baptist MBC, said, “There should be equal share and equal opportunity for all people. One race or one group should not just have the contracts throughout the city. That’s unjustified. We’ve been pushed aside for too long. Here we are in 2012 still fighting for our rights. It’s not fair at all.”