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Waterloo group seeks to drop criminal records from job apps

March 21, 2019

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — The Waterloo Commission on Human Rights is pushing for an ordinance that would bar employers from including questions about criminal histories on job applications, after a website published an article criticizing the city’s racial disparities.

The agency is asking City Council to once again consider a “ban-the-box” ordinance that would remove questions about criminal convictions and arrests from job applications, The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported.

The push comes after 24/7 Wall St. published an article in November that highlighted the differences in unemployment rates between black and white residents in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metropolitan area. In 2017, 4 percent of white residents were unemployed, compared to nearly 20 percent of black residents, the article said.

The ordinance seeks to eliminate disparities in the city and give applicants with criminal records a fair chance at employment, said Abraham Funchess, the commission’s executive director.

More than 30 states and 150 cities have adopted similar policies as of last fall, according to the National Employment Law Project. The commission’s proposal also applies to private employers, which is a less common policy nationally.

Employers would still be allowed to conduct a criminal background check before extending a job offer and could still reject applicants who aren’t fit for the position.

“We’re not asking anyone to throw wisdom and common sense out the window,” Funchess said. “Obviously, you wouldn’t put those who are guilty of theft in a bank or sex offenders around children. It doesn’t ask that at all.”

Some council members expressed support for the measure.

“I so much support this,” said council member Margaret Klein. “I’ve often thought that communities and businesses and people in general tend to continue punishing people long after they have served their official punishment.”

Others council members said they want legal input before weighing in on the issue.

The council turned down similar ordinances in 2012 and 2015.

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Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com