CAPTION: Gardner tells James Johnson, who erroneously told reporters he was the contractor and part owner of the Shell station, to fire his crew and hire blacks at that site. (Photo by Chinta Strausberg).
Gardner, protesters clash with black ‘contractor’ over jobs GM to hired 3 blacks at Shell station
By Chinta Strausberg
Standing on the construction site of a Shell gas station at 87th and the Dan Ryan, business icon Ed Gardner Thursday clashed with an African American man who claimed to be the contractor of the work site and called for a boycott if blacks are not hired. Gardner was joined by his long time friend, Carl McFerren and about 20 African American laborers and contractors some of whom held up their union cards but have been denied the right to work at other work sites. “We’re on a site which is in the middle of the black community, and you have Polish people, Latino people and not one black person working on this site. We can do the work that is being done right now,” said Gardner. “For some reason, our mayor allows this to happen,” said Gardner. “Our alderman allows this to happen.” Saying Polish people are here “getting our jobs,” Gardner added, “Black folk have done their share of work for this country and here you have disrespected us to have nothing but non-Afro-Americans working in the middle of the black community building a gas station which will primarily to service the black community. Mr. Mayor, how can you allow this to happen”?
Gardner called on motorists who drive down 87th Street to “not stop in this Shell station to buy one ounce of gas unless they change their attitude and change it right away and replace these Latinos and white folks with black men and women. It’s just that simple,” Gardner said vowing to visit other work sites around the city. Referring to the time when he drove down 95th Street and saw black men selling drugs but a few blocks west saw all non-black construction crews, Gardner told reporters, “They are selling drugs because you denied them job opportunities on sites like this.” Just as Gardner was saying this Shell station “is just another site where we’ve been really disrespected in the community…,” James Johnson, an African American who told reporters he was part owner and contractor of the site, said he could go and get four black workers. “We can bring some black employees over here,” Johnson told reporters, but Gardner heard his remarks and waving his cane at him bellowed, “Hey, it shouldn’t have been started unless you have one black man. You’re bringing them in from Poland. You get them from Mexico and you slap this mud in our face. “This is your property. Stop it right now and bring black men and women in here to work, right this minute. Do it now. Dismiss those who are working,” said Gardner. The protesters chanted, “If we don’t work, nobody works.” Asked why weren’t blacks placed at the Shell work site in the first place, Johnson, who according to the general contractor was hired as security and allegedly is part owner, said, “We got blacks working at the other site at 95th. We got blacks working at 111th. This site is not going to be ready for blacks to come over here and do the work.”
His remarks drew anger from protesters including activist Zakiyyah S. Muhammad who held up a sign that read, “Stop the racism in construction hiring.” When asked by McFerren what can’t a black do right now on this site, Johnson, who claims he owns several other gas stations with a group of investors, said they have to put tanks in the ground. “A black can’t do that”? McFerren shot back. “That’s not rocket science, sir.” An angry Gardner told Johnson, “Dismiss this crew right now off of your land and bring black men and women to do the job.” Johnson looked at Gardner and said, “Do any of them live around here? Dismissing this crew will cost us a lot of money,” Johnson said. Protesters said they didn’t care. They just wanted to work. But, Gardner had an answer for Johnson, “We’re not going to buy your gas. We’re not going to buy your food here. We’re going to boycott you. You won’t sell one once of gas in this city.” Johnson looked at Gardner and asked for more time to find black workers. “You just give us a couple of days,” said Johnson who received a resounding “no” from the protesters. Gardner told Johnson, “You bring people in from Poland in here working in our community,” he said promising Johnson they will return Friday. Johnson repeatedly said when built the station will be black-owned including its employees, but protesters argued they want to help build the station. Johnson said he had an agreement with a nearby church to hire blacks but refused to say which church. “All of these beautiful black men simply want to work and feed their families,” Gardner told reporters. “They come on the site with nothing but Polish people, Latino people working and building a gas station in the middle of the black community and yet our men stand by and watch them work.
“Our little boys and girls come by here and see nothing but non-blacks working on a site in the city of Chicago. The mayor is not doing nothing about it, but believe me we’re going to do something about it. This is just the beginning,” Gardner said explaining it is not a racial issue but rather a matter of fairness. “The mayor has the responsibility to be fair to all of its citizens. We re the most neglected sector of this city,” Gardner told reporters. “ Koron Nash, member of the Faith Community of Saint Sabina, said, “In the midst of the season we’re in right now with the election, it’s a stab to the back of the black community for the country to be looking for an African American to elected him as a president in the most powerful position in the world next to Jesus and then when he fights for jobs for our community that we cannot get those jobs. We have an African American leading our country but we can’t get the African Americans who voted him in to get jobs to support him and to support our families.” Nash said blacks have to unite over the issue of jobs. Referring to the non-black crew at the Shell site, Nash added, “Supporting this is taking dollars out of our community.” He said the black dollars doesn’t circulate more than twice in the black community.” “We only want the same thing that every other family, every other culture, every other ethnicity wants to be able to feed your kids, to educate them, for grown men to stand on their own two feet and know that they are productive citizens from society,” said Nash. “You release us from prison and don’t give us the jobs to stand on our own two-feet to do what we’re called to do by God and to support our own family and the kids around us and then blame us when we go do other things that you say are illegal. You push us into a corner and then blame us for fighting back,” said Nash.
Crediting Gardner for “leading a crusade,” Nash said, “This is not hard work. Men have gone through slaves and fight to get into unions and paid union dues to come here and stand here and to work. They paid their dues to have the opportunity to work here and for you to bus somebody in from Bolingbrook to work here when you got people two blocks up the street, that is a slap in the face of every African American citizen in the city and we’re not going to stand for that,” Nash said. Referring to the lucrative construction business, Nash said, “It’s about money. We don’t get a chance to get into the room when decisions like this are made. They push us out and keep us out because when they make decisions they make decisions with their buddies who are in the room,” he said referring to white general managers of construction sites. “It’s about money,” Nash said. Reginald Rooks, who lives in the Ninth Ward, is a carpenter apprentice from Local 13, said, “They’re building a Walmart by his house. I live on 111th. They are building a job site on 108th. I could walk to the job. I should be the first person to work in my neighborhood,” he said. Showing reporters his union card, Rooks said, “You see my (union) card is current and up-to-date. I make sure all my dues are paid before any bill (is paid) because this is the one that pays all the bills.” “There’s a lot of work getting ready to go in my area, and you have African American companies who hire Caucasian and Mexicans to be their superintendents and foremen’s and they act like it’s a problem for me to work in my neighborhood.” He said when he goes to his alderman ‘s office he’s told ‘I’m next in line.” Rooks said when he goes to other aldermanic offices he is allegedly told he is not first preference because he’s not a resident in their ward. “I’m in the Ninth Ward, but I can’t work. Why do we always have to go through a process to work a job? I have to drive 100 miles to Streamwood (to work) and I live on 111th….”
Tom Harris, a member of the Amer-I-Can organization, said he is surprised that there are no union people at the Shell site. Echoing what activist Vince Gilbert said earlier, Harris said, “We need to work a little bit harder to make sure all of the black politicians should do their job and not issue those permits for them to come and do work in our neighborhoods….” He and Gilbert said before contracts are approved by the city, a work agreement should be included that ensures black employment. After Gardner left to go to City Hall to talk about jobs for blacks, several protesters and Johnson got into a shouting match with Johnson calling the police. “We trying to get the off our property. They want us to hire black people,” Johnson told the police. Two squad cars arrived, but the police did not interfere with the protestors. A member of the International Union of North America Local 225, Bob Israel seized the moment to talk to the general contractor, Rick Scali, and successfully negotiated a deal—to get three of his men hired for two-weeks. Charles Taylor, a funeral director with the Taylor Funeral Home, looked at the site and said, “I feel very misled and overlooked. I feel we re all taxpayers and we are qualified. We should all have an opportunity.”
While Johnson, who says he is part owner of the Shell station being built at 87th and the Dan Ryan, and is the contractor for the job, Scali later told reporters he hired Johnson as his security but did say he was part owner of the station. On several occasions, Johnson walked away from the angry protesters several times after some of them called him names especially when he was called a “house n…” and a “front.” “We’re trying to work with them. I don’t need people hollering in my ear…,” an angry Johnson told reporters. When asked why didn’t he have blacks on the job initially, Scali said, “We did when we were doing the excavations. All of the truck drivers were African American. We’re not trying to create this distance…,” said Scali. He said as a general contractor he hires subcontractors. When asked if he can make a provision to hire blacks with his subcontractors, Scali told reporters, “Yes, I can. I was never in this predicament before; so if it were an issue I can make sure moving forward to not let this happen” again. “That is ultimately our goal. We don’t want the conflict. We don’t need the conflict. We’re here to work. It’s hard enough for all of us to get a job.” Scali said being the general contractor for this project “kind of fell in my lap. It was the last minute. I didn’t know I was going to get it or not so I just hired the guys I usually work with.” “I have no problem with the community,” he said explaining he had spoken to Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) that morning. Gilbert said these companies can’t work in the community without aldermanic approval. Asked what is the job title for Johnson, Scali told reporters,” He works for me. He actually does security here.” As a result of talking to Israel, Scali confirmed he is hiring three African Americans today, Friday, October 26, 2012, at $15.00 an hour for two-weeks. He said this project is a non-union site. “That is the best I can do at this time,” said Scali. ###
2 Attached Images