Cheryl Wills| November 1, 2015
A Brooklyn-based grassroots organization has scored a major victory with the passage of the Fair Chance Act, which bans questions about criminal history on job applications. NY1’s Cheryl Wills has more on the group that made it happen.
On October 27, members of this grassroots organization called Vocal New York celebrated a major victory.
“This affects my life and my children,” said Marilyn Scales.
Scales stood front and center at this Vocal New York Rally for the Fair Chance Act — which is now in effect— after serving a two-year prison sentence. Scales found herself locked out of the job market because she checked the box on job application forms which asked if she had been convicted of a felony. She was on a personal mission with Vocal New York to “ban the box.”
“I’ve never been hired by anyone because I had to check yes — if I lie — I would not have had any chance of getting a job but I never got call for an interview or anything,” she said.
In June, Scales and members of Vocal New York watched as Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the Fair Chance Act into law.
“We had the biggest role of all contacting people, talking to legislators, protesting and stuff and we won.”
VOCAL stands for Voices of Community Activists and Leaders and the 15-year-old organization helped Elizabeth Owens turn her life around. The former heroin user was homeless and jobless until the group hired her to work at their storefront office across from The Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Now she has her own office and a staff.
“Nobody would give me a chance to show that I’m somebody, so Vocal New York did that and opened up the doors for me,” Owens said.
Vocal NY has also caught the attention of local politicians.
“Vocal is fantastic – they’re one of the lead organizations in the city,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams.
“Just because you have a record doesn’t mean you can’t do a good job,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
Although the box is now illegal on job applications, New York City employers may ask about job applicants’ pending arrests or criminal convictions only after making a conditional offer of employment.
Vocal New York says they are now targeting other issues like affordable housing.