The Fair Chance Act, a historic piece of legislation, will be voted on this afternoon by the City Council. It stands to be one of the strongest laws of its kind in the country. Simply put, the Fair Chance Act takes the criminal record question off the table until a conditional offer of employment is made. It does not require employers to hire individuals with criminal convictions, it simply requires them to judge these applicants on their merits. The Community Service Society is proud to have been the primary legal advocate behind this vitally important bill, and to be part of the large coalition of advocates, organizers, union members and faith leaders who worked hard to ensure its passage.
The thinking behind the Fair Chance Act is simple: job applicants should not be automatically screened out of the hiring process based on past mistakes before they’ve had an opportunity to prove their qualifications for the position they seek. Under the Fair Chance Act, employers will now evaluate these applicants’ fitness for the job, just like any other applicant, instead of screening them out before they’ve even had a chance.
This bill is vital to the health of our City, and passing it couldn’t happen at a more opportune time. Although it’s been illegal since 1976, employment discrimination based on a criminal record is rampant in New York. Criminal records-based employment discrimination has produced vastly imbalanced outcomes in hiring because of the huge racial disparities in who gets prosecuted for crimes in our City. Sadly, it’s also come to act as a smokescreen for race discrimination. As it stands, job applicants with criminal records in New York City are only half as likely to get a call back than those who don’t have them; for African-American candidates, the chance of getting called back is reduced to one-third.
The Fair Chance Act will help address this unjust situation by removing a senseless and counterproductive barrier to full participation in our City’s economy: once it is passed and effective, we can look forward to the increased employment in communities of color that is essential to reducing the racial and economic disparities in our City. The City Council is to be commended for recognizing the importance of bringing down barriers to full employment. Specials thanks are in order for Councilmember Jumaane Williams, lead sponsor of the bill, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for her tireless advocacy on this issue, Councilmembers Ritchie Torres and Corey Johnson for their important support, and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito who provided the leadership to bring this important legislation to a vote.