New York City Adopts Nation’s Strongest ‘Ban the Box’ Policy as Momentum Builds for Fair-Chance Hiring Reforms

New Yorkers with Conviction Histories Will Get a Fair Shot at a Job as City Council Passes Fair Chance Act

New York, NY—New Yorkers with records and their advocates applauded the New York City Council’s passage today of Intro 318, the Fair Chance Act—legislation designed to help ensure that people with conviction histories have a fair chance at employment and are not unlawfully shut out of the job market. The bill passed by a vote of 45 to 5.

The Fair Chance Act prohibits all employers in New York City from asking about a job applicant’s conviction record until the end of the hiring process, when the employer has decided the candidate is the best qualified and is the person they want to hire. At that point, employers may inquire about the candidate’s criminal background. The new law will facilitate a fully informed hiring decision based on a candidate’s skill set and qualifications, and not merely based on an applicant’s unchangeable past. Nearly one in three adults in the United States has a criminal history that will show up in a routine background check.

The Fair Chance Act extends the reach of New York City’s existing fair-chance policy to the private sector. City government agencies have been operating under a fair-chance hiring policy since 2011, thanks to Executive Order 151, signed by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Momentum for fair-chance hiring policies is growing nationwide, as access to employment is increasingly viewed as crucial to reducing recidivism and effectively reforming the criminal justice system. Currently, 17 states and more than 100 cities and counties, including Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Buffalo, Rochester, and Washington D.C., have already adopted fair-chance ordinances. Private employers, including Target, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, and most recently, Koch Industries, have all adopted ban-the-box policies.

The Obama administration is considering a federal-level policy for agencies and contractors. Today’s vote in New York City coincides with a National Day of Action urging President Obama to adopt a federal fair-chance hiring policy.

Leaders of the Fair Chance NYC coalition gathered with elected officials on the City Hall steps on Wednesday prior to the City Council vote. 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. Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black, also spoke at the press conference about the importance of second chances.

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.

Voices from the Coalition

Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), deputy leader and co-lead sponsor of the Fair Chance Act:

“I am proud to work with a vibrant group of elected officials to pass the NYC Fair Chance Act. Once enacted, this law will ensure that all New Yorkers, including those with convictions for previous mistakes, will have an equal opportunity to compete for jobs that they qualify 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. I am proud New York City will now join the ranks of more than 17 states and 100 cities to give all applicants a fair chance.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer:

“We call this bill the Fair Chance Act because that’s what it will give everyone. We cannot let the mere fact that a person was arrested become a black mark that closes every door. When these New Yorkers are free to build a better future, we’ll all be better off. I’m proud to have sponsored this bill, both as a Council Member and now in partnership with Council Member Williams, and am thrilled it’s on its way to being the law.”

Council Member Corey Johnson:

“The Fair Chance Act will give all qualified applicants a fair chance to compete for jobs by deferring questions about criminal history until after a conditional job offer. 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.”

Council Member Ritchie Torres:

“All job applicants with the right qualifications and desire to work should be able to compete fairly for jobs and be considered for their skills, not past mistakes. The Fair Chance Act ensures that employers are giving all applicants the same level playing field, and I applaud the City Council for passing this important legislation.”

Public Advocate Letitia James:

“We must tear down barriers to employment for qualified New Yorkers trying to get back to work and rebuild their lives. The Fair Chance Act would eliminate a discriminatory and unjust employment practice, help break cycles of recidivism, and give struggling New Yorkers the second chance that everyone deserves. I want to thank Council Member Williams and my fellow co-sponsors of the Fair Chance Act for bringing this critical issue to the forefront, and I look forward to working together to pass this meaningful reform.”

Marilyn Scales, a member of VOCAL-NY:

“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, but was always 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.”

Tsedeye Gebreselassie, an attorney with the National Employment Law Project:

“We’ve had the privilege of working on dozens of fair-chance initiatives around the nation. The momentum behind this issue is just incredible. By adopting policies like the Fair Chance Act, together we’re creating a stronger economy and safer cities for all. Next up is action on the federal level. President Obama, it’s time to step up and embrace fair-chance hiring for federal agencies and contractors.”

David R. Jones, president and CEO of the Community Service Society:

“The Community Service Society of New York congratulates the New York City Council for passing the Fair Chance Act. CSS is proud to have led the legal effort to enact one of the strongest laws of its kind in the country, and looks forward to working with the City Commission on Human Rights to ensure its strict enforcement.”

Pastor Darren Ferguson, Mt. Carmel Baptist Church & Faith in NY:

“The Fair Chance Act is the first of many steps for returning citizens; it provides an initial opportunity for men and women to get through the interview process without being stigmatized by their past. As a pastor and returning citizen myself, I am pleased that we are moving towards a society where individuals are not re-sentenced after returning home from incarcerations.”

32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa:

“Good jobs can transform people’s lives, and the Fair Chance Act will give more New Yorkers a fair chance at transforming their own. This is a key step in reforming our criminal justice system. That’s why we’re supporting this vital legislation to ensure that men and women with a conviction history have the opportunity to get a good job and a bright future.” Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party:“Working Families commends the New York City Council for seeking to repair lives and communities by passing ban-the-box legislation. It’s just plain wrong to sentence formerly incarcerated people to a lifetime of unemployment. This legislation will change the lives for hundreds of thousands New Yorkers and their families by giving them a fair chance in the job market. Today’s vote only furthers the New York City Council’s already impressive record of fighting for working families.”

Glenn E. Martin, President, JustLeadershipUSA:

“Public safety has little to do with handcuffs and a lot to do with opportunity. Employers have a right and responsibility to take a potential employee’s criminal record into account. However, denying qualified jobseekers with criminal records the chance to compete for employment is the equivalent of denying all New Yorkers a safer city. Ban-the-box simply allows everyone to compete fairly.”

For Immediate Release:  June 10, 2015
Contact:  Emma Stieglitz, emmaS@berlinrosen.com, (646) 200-5307


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