May 12, 2015

Udall wants Obama to ‘ban the box’ on federal job applications

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Senator Tom Udall was one of 27 U.S. Senators, all members of the Democratic caucus, who signed onto a letter asking President Barack Obama to stop federal agencies and federal contractors from asking about felony convictions on job applications.

The effort known as “ban the box” is designed to let those with criminal records get job interviews and perhaps gain employment. During the job interview, supporters of the proposal say, employers would be able to ask the prospective employee about their criminal record.

“People who have served their time deserve a fair shot at rebuilding their lives — and one of the first steps to ending recidivism and getting back on your feet is holding down a job,” Udall said in a statement to New Mexico Political Report. “This is about promoting fair hiring practices that help ensure people with a record are not discriminated against as they attempt to make a positive contribution to their families and communities.”

“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,” the letter reads. “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.”

A number of places in the country have already put similar laws on the books or done so through executive actions; the letter says over 100 cities and counties as well as 16 states do not allow public agencies to ask about an applicants’ criminal past on an application. Of these, six states and some cities spread this prohibition to private  sector workers.

The letter also says major employers like Walmart, Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Koch Industries and Home Depot have stopped asking about criminal pasts on job applications.

In New Mexico, public entities are already barred from asking about criminal history on job applications.

Efforts to extend to the private sector have fallen short, though the state Senate narrowly passed such legislation in this year’s legislative session. The legislation was amended to only apply to companies with 30 or more employees in a House committee, but the legislation never reached the House floor.

The letter from Senators says that Obama’s administration should be a leader on the issue.

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.”

An executive order by Obama could mirror an executive order by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1943 regarding non-discrimination “which helped to increase the speed by wich the private sector moved to address discrimination and to ensure equal employment opportunities for all Americans” according to the letter.