PR: City Council Holds Civil Rights Hearing on Fair Chance Act

For Immediate Release:  December 3, 2014

Contact:  Emma Stieglitz, emmaS@berlinrosen.com, (646) 200-5307

 

City Council Holds Civil Rights Hearing on Fair Chance Act

Legislation to Give NYC Residents Fair Chance at Employment

 

New York, NY—The New York City Council’s Civil Rights Committee held a hearing today on the Fair Chance Act (Intro 318), legislation designed to ensure all New Yorkers have a fair chance at employment.

The Fair Chance Act would remove unfair employment barriers for qualified job candidates who have a conviction in their past. It would require employers in New York City to postpone any criminal record checks until the end of their hiring process, after they have selected the person they wish to hire.

At that point, employers can conduct a criminal record inquiry and make a fully informed hiring decision, knowing the candidate’s record but also his or her qualifications and merits.

The legislation fits into a national trend of expanding access to employment as a way to lower recidivism and ensure employers consider all qualified applicants and not overlook the candidate who might become their best employee. To date, 13 states and nearly 90 cities and counties have adopted fair-chance ordinances, including Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Buffalo, and Rochester.

Leaders of the Fair Chance NYC coalition gathered today for a rally with elected officials at City Hall before the start of the hearing. The coalition of more than 25 community, labor, and faith organizations includes VOCAL-NY, the National Employment Law Project, the Community Service Society, 32BJ SEIU, and Faith in New York, among others.

The Fair Chance Act was introduced in April 2014 by Council Members Jumaane D. Williams, Corey Johnson, and Ritchie Torres, at the request of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. The legislation currently boasts 35 co-sponsors, a super-majority of the City Council.

“I am proud to work with such a vibrant group of advocates and elected officials to get the New York City Fair Chance Act passed,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), deputy leader and co-lead sponsor of the Fair Chance Act. “Once enacted into law, this bill will ensure that all New Yorkers, including those with convictions for previous mistakes, will have an equal opportunity to compete for jobs they are qualified for. Though the legislation does not require employers to hire any particular applicant, it delays the background check, thus supplementing preexisting law that says employers cannot deny a job because of a record unless there is a direct relationship to the job. Not only does employment strengthen communities and lower recidivism, but employers will have access to a broader range of qualified candidates to consider.”

“A past mistake should not prevent anyone from getting an interview for a job,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “I’m proud to sponsor the Fair Chance Act because it levels the playing field for all job candidates by allowing candidates to be considered solely based on their qualifications. Since ‘banning the box’ in city agencies under Executive Order 151, the hiring of qualified candidates with a criminal history doubled last year. That means it succeeds at giving second chances to those who need it, and that’s why it should be extended to all hiring sectors.”

“I want to express my gratitude to Chair Mealy for hearing Intro 318, which will give all qualified applicants a fair chance to compete for jobs by deferring questions about criminal history. More than five million New Yorkers with records will benefit from the chance to demonstrate their qualifications, and employers will be presented with a broader range of candidates from which to choose. Many employers report that it is people with criminal records who often work harder, are more willing to stay at a job for a longer period of time, and develop into valuable leaders,” said Council Member Corey Johnson.

“Too many New Yorkers, particularly young men of color, are denied the opportunity to be employed due to their criminal history. We have a responsibility to expand access to jobs for all New Yorkers, especially because employment reduces recidivism and strengthens our communities,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres.

“When I came home from prison, all I wanted was a fresh start for me and my children. I applied for every job I could find, and on every job application, I was asked to disclose my criminal record history. I never got interviews, and now, even after 10 years of no interaction with the police, I still struggle to find decent work. I know I am more than my criminal record and the Fair Chance Act will give me an opportunity to prove it,” said Marilyn Scales, a member of VOCAL-NY. 

“The passage of a strong, comprehensive Fair Chance Act in New York City will not only benefit millions of New Yorkers and their families, but we expect that it will be a national catalyst. Already, 13 states and nearly 90 U.S. localities have adopted ‘ban the box’ policies, and we expect even more jurisdictions to take this common-sense reform to the private sector, giving millions of Americans a second chance,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, an attorney with the National Employment Law Project.

“The Community Service Society has long seen employment as the surest way out of poverty,” said David R. Jones, president and CEO of the Community Service Society. “The Fair Chance Act gives all workers the same opportunity to show they are best qualified for a job before a background check can be done, and it ensures employers follow existing law that prohibits employment discrimination based on a criminal record. By doing so, the law will reduce recidivism and strengthen communities.”

“It’s just plain wrong to sentence formerly incarcerated people to a lifetime of unemployment,” said Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party.

“The Fair Chance Act is an opportunity for our city to send a message to our returned citizens that we are beginning to level the playing field for all New Yorkers to have a fair chance at becoming gainfully employed,” said Rev. Darren Ferguson, pastor at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church & Faith in NY.

“The Fair Chance Act is about two fundamental American principles: justice and opportunity. All New Yorkers should have access to good jobs, regardless of their past,” said 32BJ Secretary-Treasurer Kyle Bragg. “Many people—especially people of color, who face over-policing in their neighborhoods—are seeing a box on job applications ruin their chances before a future employer even gets to know them. Instead of denying second chances, let’s support everyone who wants to work hard, change their life and contribute to our city.”

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