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City of Columbia moves toward banning criminal and wage history questions on their job applications

Published: Jul. 9, 2019 at 7:14 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Columbia City Council has moved one step closer to officially leaving criminal and wage history out of the city’s initial job conversation.

It is a move proponents say could improve pay and give people with criminal convictions a second chance.

Proponents say job applicants will not have to fear being given a lower salary based on previous pay and they will get a chance to explain criminal convictions and get an honest shot a job.

When it comes to criminal history, there is a national campaign called “Ban the Box” in which some cities and state governments have elected to take out the box you check or mark when asked about criminal history on a job application.

For a few years now, city officials say they have excluded the question informally, but now if passed, the new ordinance would apply for city employees, for those who want to contract with the city and vendors.

Derek Gamble, who has been to prison before, agrees this is the right move and one that could trickle down to the private sector.

He started an organization called ‘Clean-Slate Reentry Program’ that helps those with criminal history get jobs.

He says an employer is likely to put an application aside if criminal history is noted, before even talking to the person face to face.

Gamble also adds that no second chances might lead a person back to committing crimes

“It expounds on recidivism because a person gets very discouraged and many times they revert to what they formally might have done before to get incarcerated because many crimes might have been done in the pretense of actually trying to survive,” Gamble said.

We also spoke with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin about how this move allows Columbia to further the dialogue for change.

“We are at a point right now where there are as many Americans with criminal records as there are those with college degrees. So how do we create opportunities for more people to participate in the American Economy and earn a living wage and take care of themselves and their families? It starts with action, being a city of second chances,” Benjamin said.

“I hope it would actually make other people aware that this step is in the right direction to at least give a person an opportunity to express themselves and tell a little bit more about what might have happened during the situation that caused them to become incarcerated or gain a criminal history,” Gamble said.

The ordinance is not on the books yet, it still needs to be passed again by the council, and that is anticipated at the next council meeting.

There was some concern from Councilman Daniel Rikenmann when it comes to making sure background checks, public safety measures, are explicitly included within this policy. However, Rickenmann did vote in favor of the ordinance.

City officials say this ordinance does not mean background checks will go away, simply that criminal history will not be asked about in the application.

“What it’ll do is allow you an opportunity to be viewed on your qualification. If you get to an interview, you get to the point where folks are looking at you seriously as a candidate, then it may come up at that point, and you have an opportunity not just to explain, but it might not be relevant to the job,” City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine said.

When it comes to the wage part of the ordinance, those in support of the wage move, add that banning wage history questions can allow an employer to look at qualifications and pay what the job entails, instead of using previous wage history as a determination something that could lead to women being paid less than men for the same job.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin stated that it is important to recognize that pay disparities exist when it comes to women making less than men and the wage history question, perpetuates that issue.

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