May 08, 2015

Warner, Kaine Urge President Obama To “Ban The Box” On Federal Job Applications

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine joined 24 of their Senate colleagues today in urging President Obama to expand job opportunities and reduce recidivism by taking executive action and requiring federal contractors and federal agencies to “ban the box” on job applications.

“Our nation’s legal and moral underpinnings provide that anyone who makes a mistake and learns from it deserves a second chance. Those who have accepted the consequences of their actions and who have paid the price for their past transgressions should have the opportunity to reenter the workplace,” wrote the senators in today’s letter to President Obama. “Yet, too often, the over 70 million Americans who have criminal histories face unreasonable barriers that prevent them from securing gainful employment. These barriers have prevented millions from becoming productive members of society and serve as one of the leading causes of recidivism.”

Last month, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order reforming state hiring practices by removing questions regarding criminal history from employment applications.

Reforming hiring practices has widespread support from both public and private institutions. Sixteen states, including Virginia, and more than 100 cities and counties – including the cities of Alexandria, Charlottesville, Dansville, Fredericksburg, Newport News, Norfolk, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond, Roanoke and Virginia Beach as well as Arlington and Fairfax counties – have already begun to implement fair chance hiring practices that prevent job applicants from being asked about prior convictions until later in the hiring process. Many of the nation’s largest employers, including Walmart; Target; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Koch Industries; and Home Depot, have also opted to “ban the box.”

“Ban the Box” refers to the section on job application forms that inquires whether the applicant has ever been convicted. For the more than 70 million Americans who have served their time and are trying to rebuild their lives, this barrier to employment so early in the hiring process can serve as categorical disqualification, and limits their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Studies have shown that an inability to find employment is one of the leading causes of reoffending. 

Under “ban the box,” employers would retain the ability to inquire about past convictions or conduct background checks regarding a potential employee before making an employment decision.

“We urge you to use your power as our nation’s Chief Executive to require that federal contractors incorporate ‘fair chance’ hiring practices and that federal agencies take additional steps to create a more fair and transparent hiring process,” the senators wrote to President Obama. “Specifically, we ask you to require federal contractors and agencies to refrain from asking job applicants about prior convictions until later in the hiring process. This policy would eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment for all job seekers and would give individuals re-entering the workforce the opportunity to apply for work based on their current merits rather than past wrong-doings.”

In addition to Sens. Warner and Kaine, today’s  letter was also signed by: U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OH), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tom Carper (D-DE), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Bernie Sanders (D-VT).

The full text of the letter can be found below:

May 8, 2015

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. President:

Our nation’s legal and moral underpinnings provide that anyone who makes a mistake and learns from it deserves a second chance.  Those who have accepted the consequences of their actions and who have paid the price for their past transgressions should have the opportunity to reenter the workplace.  Yet, too often, the over 70 million Americans who have criminal histories face unreasonable barriers that prevent them from securing gainful employment.  These barriers have prevented millions from becoming productive members of society and serve as one of the leading causes of recidivism.  According to one study, men who reported criminal convictions were about 50 percent less likely to receive a callback or a job offer and African-American men with a conviction are 40 percent less likely to receive an interview.  The result is a hiring process which denies millions the ability to fully participate in the labor market, and limits their ability to care for themselves and their families while contributing to our economy.

We urge you to use your power as our nation’s Chief Executive to require that federal contractors incorporate “fair chance” hiring practices and that federal agencies take additional steps to create a more fair and transparent hiring process.  Specifically, we ask you to require federal contractors and agencies to refrain from asking job applicants about prior convictions until later in the hiring process.  This policy would eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment for all job seekers and would give individuals re-entering the workforce the opportunity to apply for work based on their current merits rather than past wrong-doings.  Employers would retain the ability to inquire about past convictions or conduct background checks regarding a potential employee before making an employment decision.

In the last few years, the list of jurisdictions with similar laws has expanded rapidly.  Sixteen states and over 100 cities and counties have taken steps to prohibit public agencies from asking job applicants about criminal convictions until later in the application process.  Most recently, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed an Executive Order making the case that “‘Ban the Box’ hiring policies enhance Georgia’s reputation as the number one place to do business by increasing qualified applicant pools and improving the likelihood that the employer will identify the best candidate for the position.”  Six states and a number of cities have extended the policy to include both public and private sector workers, and some of the nation’s largest companies, including Walmart; Target; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Koch industries; and Home Depot have stopped asking about criminal records at the beginning of the job application process.

Your administration has also acknowledged the necessity of taking action.  In 2011, Attorney General Holder convened a federal commission, called the Reentry Council, which called for “making the federal government a model employer.”  And in 2014, the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force strongly endorsed these “fair chance” reforms because they “give applicants a fair chance and allow employers the opportunity to judge individual job candidates on their merits as they reenter the workforce.”

Taking executive action to address this problem is firmly within the authority of your office.  As early as 1943, President Roosevelt issued an executive order that required all government contracts to include a non-discrimination clause, an effort that multiple Administrations have built upon and which helped to increase the speed by which the private sector moved to address discrimination and to ensure equal employment opportunities for all Americans. 

We urge you to build on this momentum and take executive action to assist the large number of job seekers who have been unfairly locked out of the job market because of a record.  These reforms would restore hope and opportunity to those with criminal records who face substantial obstacles in their quest to be productive members of their communities.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely, 

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