Last week, faster than you can say, “Your software needs to be updated to iOS 8.3,” Apple defended its policy of barring people with felony records from working construction on its new Cupertino campus, and then rescinded it after an outpouring of public criticism.
Apple made the right call. As a multinational corporation, its support for fair-chance hiring carries huge symbolic value, as well as positively affecting the lives of real people who have done their time and seek to rebuild their lives as productive neighbors, fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters. And in big business, Apple is not alone. Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and Bed, Bath & Beyond have removed the question about convictions from their initial job applications. Meanwhile, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), 15 states and more than 100 cities and counties, plus the District of Columbia, have adopted fair-chance hiring policies.
It’s long past time for the federal government to step up.
The ACLU has joined the call of NELP, All of Us or None, the PICO National Network, and almost 200 other organizations and individuals to President Obama to issue an executive order and presidential memorandum directing federal agencies and federal contractors to adopt fair-hiring practices. The federal government employs more than 2 million civilians, and approximately 22 percent of U.S. workers are employed by federal and federally funded contractors or subcontractors. Adoption of fair-chance hiring throughout the federal workforce would not only demonstrate powerful leadership; it would also impact millions of people.
To be clear, fair-chance hiring policies don’t guarantee jobs for people with criminal records. They simply help ensure that those individuals are considered for employment on their merits, typically by postponing a criminal background check till later in the hiring process and incorporating guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that require employers to consider whether a particular criminal conviction is “job related and consistent with business necessity.” The EEOC has stated that “criminal record exclusions have a disparate impact based on race and national origin” – not surprising given that the U.S. criminal justice system disproportionately impacts African-Americans and Latinos.
In his recent interview with David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” President Obama acknowledged that individuals with felony histories are often prevented from entering the job market. He called it “counter-productive.”
Yes, Mr. President – it is counter-productive.
And you can help make it right. Make the federal government a model for the rest of the nation by requiring federal agencies and contractors to give people with criminal records a second chance.