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Fair Chance Hiring Reforms for Workers with a Criminal Record

By Larry I. Willis

Almost one in three adults has a record that will show up in a criminal background check, creating a serious barrier to employment for millions of workers. Today, TTD was proud to add our name to a letter asking President Obama to ensure that otherwise qualified job applicants who have a criminal conviction or have been arrested are not denied employment opportunities at federal agencies or contractors. We and other organizations, including the National Employment Law Project, call on the federal government to lead the way and be a model for giving workers a second chance through the adoption of “fair chance” hiring reforms advocated by the diverse coalition represented on the letter to the president.

Background checks are not a new problem for transportation labor. After the horrific 9/11 attacks, federal policymakers moved to create broad new background checks for many workers in the transportation sector and initially often did so without adequate employee protections. As these mandates were being crafted, TTD and our affiliates secured waiver and appeal rights for port and maritime workers as part of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program, and later for truck drivers hauling hazardous materials.

These rights allow workers who have a criminal history to show that they are not a security threat and are otherwise qualified to work, giving them a crucial opportunity to obtain access to good jobs. These protections have also been promoted by Congress as best practices for private employer checks in the rail and transit sectors. And throughout our advocacy work on background checks, we have sought to limit how far back criminal review could extend and what offenses would disqualify an otherwise qualified employee.

We are proud that many of the protections that TTD has long advocated are part of the “fair chance” hiring reforms being sought for federal workers and those employed at federal contractors. We know from experience with TWIC and other background check programs that simply disqualifying everyone with a criminal record needlessly denies employment for too many Americans who are ready to build strong communities and families. We also know that arbitrary and rigid background checks deny employers many talented and dedicated workers. Giving workers a second chance – not penalizing someone for an entire lifetime for a bad choice – is the right thing to do.

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