Dozens Lobby City Council for 'Ban the Box' Legislation

Sep 25, 2012

Several dozen people gathered in Pittsburgh City Council Chambers Tuesday morning to demand that The Council pass a bill commonly known as "ban the box" legislation.

The bill would prohibit any criminal background inquiries on initial job applications for both public and private employers in the city, deferring those questions until the interview process. The measure was introduced last year by Council Finance Chair Ricky Burgess, but it is still awaiting a legal opinion from the city law department.

Now, activists are renewing their calls for passage. Dean Williams of the Formerly Convicted Citizens Project said the bill has the potential to benefit a lot of people.

"There are an estimated 150,000 people in Allegheny County with some type of criminal record, and 70,000 of those people live in the city of Pittsburgh," said Williams. He said the "ban the box" bill would allow those people to be considered first for their qualifications and second for convictions.

Several of the people on hand at Tuesday's council meeting were themselves convicted felons who've since been released, such as Keith Glover.

"I was rehabilitated, but the opportunity and invitation, once I stepped out into society, was not forwarded to me," said Glover, "because when I had that motivation and when I had that self-esteem and it was time for me to fill out that application, I got to that one spot, that box."

Glover said he's finding it difficult to provide for his family now that he's out of jail.

Situations like Glover's are common, according to Amachi Pittsburgh Executive Director Anna Hollis. Her organization mentors children whose parents have been incarcerated. Hollis said imprisonment has many negative effects on families, but the grim economic consequences are often the longest-lived.

"There are opportunities to strengthen family ties, to re-establish family ties, to forgive, to start all over again," said Hollis. "But, when a parent still cannot find gainful employment to care for those children, the children are still struggling to have some of the basic needs provided."

Under Councilman Burgess's bill, employers could only consider felony and misdemeanor offenses that are directly related to the job when turning down an applicant. Crimes more than seven years old could not be considered, nor could offenses that were expunged by court order.

The changes would apply to all private and public employers with five or more employees, excluding the city’s Police, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services bureaus. State and federal laws would pre-empt the measure, as well as collective bargaining agreements. Any company breaking the law would be subject to a fine of $500 to $2,000.

In addition to Burgess, Council Members Bruce Kraus, Bill Peduto, and Natalia Rudiak have declared support for the "ban the box" legislation in Pittsburgh.

Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and several other US cities have enacted similar bills.