Fair chance for New Yorkers

In this June 25, 2015 file photo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks to the graduates of the Boys and Girls High School in New York.
Associated Press / Seth Wenig, File

Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed the New York City Fair Chance Act into law, ensuring that all New Yorkers, even those with a criminal record, have an equal opportunity to compete for a job.

Intro. 318, which was co-sponsored by Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), Deputy Leader and Chair of the Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Members Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) and Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), passed the City Council on June 10 and will take effect in 120 days.

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, said Williams, who represents the 45th Council District in Brooklyn.

He said 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, Williams said.

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, Williams noted.

He said 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, Williams said.

The Fair Chance Act was introduced in April 2014 by Council Members Williams, Corey Johnson, and Ritchie Torres, at the request of Borough President Brewer.

“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,” Williams said. “This is one of the strongest ‘Ban the Box’ bills in the nation, and 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,” he added.

“Not only does employment strengthen communities and lower recidivism, but employers will have access to a broader range of qualified candidates to consider,” continued Williams, thanking de Blasio, Speaker Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Civil Rights Committee Chair Mealy and “the vibrant group of elected officials and advocates who worked tirelessly to pass this landmark legislation.”

“Today, we ‘ban the box’ in New York City,” de Blasio said. “This bill opens the door to jobs for New Yorkers who have already paid their debt to society, rather than condemning them to a grim economic future.

“Now, all applicants will get a fair shot at the opportunities that can lead them on a pathway to success,” he said. “I want to thank Speaker Mark-Viverito for her leadership, as well as Manhattan Borough President Brewer and Council Member Williams for sponsoring this legislation.”

Brewer said “we call this bill the Fair Chance Act because that’s what it will give everyone.

“We will not let the mere fact that a person was arrested become a black mark that closes every door,” she said. “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 to see the mayor sign it into law today,” she added.

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