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Job Assistance Legislation

The Seattle City Council passed the Job Assistance Bill at Full Council on June 10th, 2013. The ordinance increases public safety and reduces criminal recidivism by providing job assistance to individuals with previous criminal records.

Background

Ban the BoxThe necessity for Job Assistance Legislation grew out of key changes within the criminal justice system. The incarceration of the United States has tripled since 1980 and is nearly eight times its historic average. Racial disparities in incarceration rates have had an overwhelming affect on communities of color. Current data resoundingly confirms that the inability to attain employment after obtaining a criminal record hinders previous offenders from reentering society, ultimately leading to future offenses, putting public safety at risk. Additionally, the Jobs Assistance Legislation will reduce the cost of criminal justice and save tax dollars.

The bill brought together representatives from the business community, social justice organizations, and the city to create thoughtful discussion and compromise on this complicated issue. Some main takeaways from the legislation include:

  1. "Banning the Box" - Removing the check-box question on employment applications that ask applicants if they have any criminal convictions.
  2. Maintaining the safeguards currently in place that protects businesses from violent criminals, dishonesty, or unsafe employees.
  3. Placing requirements when an employer chooses to reject a qualified applicant solely based on their criminal record including:
  4. Identifying to the applicant the information on which they are basing their decision.
  5. Providing the applicant a reasonable opportunity to explain the information and hold the position open for a minimum two business days after notifying the applicant.
  6. Having a “legitimate business reason” for making the decision.
  7. Penalizing for violations - Allowing the City to impose fines and collect attorney fees for the most extreme violations.
  8. Granting oversight - Empowering the Seattle Office of Civil Rights to conduct investigations to enforce the law.

Community Response

Job AssistanceMichael McElvaney, General Manager at PayMax Car Buyers provided this perspective from the frontline: "So we create a system wherein people are placed back into society with no hope, with few opportunities, with little chance of gaining employment, unable to prove themselves as someone who has earned and deserves a simple chance. That is all, just a chance. And we wonder why they again become 'desperate' and re-offend? My question is, what option did we leave them with?"

Karen Lee, CEO of Pioneer Human Services, a non-profit organization operating in 60 locations across Washington, said, "We speak from experience when we say that people with criminal histories can make great employees. The majority of our manufacturing workforce includes people with criminal conviction histories, and they are the cornerstone of our business model. It's our mission but it's also been good business."

Chris Stearns, Chairman of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, said, "The Seattle Human Rights Commission strongly supports this legislation which will provide members of our community with a second chance. This bill is built on the same values that made Seattle great - respect, opportunity and work. It gives all people looking for work, including those who have made mistakes, the chance to be considered on the basis of their strengths not their weaknesses."

"Councilmember Harrell showed tremendous courage, leadership and vision in moving this complex and controversial civil rights legislation forward. This legislation will change lives. People who have made mistakes now have an opportunity to support themselves and set an example for their children by becoming productive members of society. It makes the possibility for redemption a reality in our City," said Merf Ehman, Civil Rights attorney at Columbia Legal Services.

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