Rosenblum: Banning the box was a start, not the end

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 17, 2013 - 7:50 PM
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Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, center, supported Ban the Box.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Turns out, Ban the Box is just the beginning.

A victor of the 2013 legislative session, the new bill requires employers to remove the question, and the check box, that asks potential employees about their criminal records. Beginning Jan. 2, 2014, employers can ask about criminal histories only after selecting applicants for interviews.

Advocates of second chances are saying, thank you, thank you. … And, now that we have your attention, here’s what we need you to do next.

“Ban the Box is a big step forward,” said Greta Bergstrom, spokeswoman for TakeAction Minnesota, a statewide people’s network working for social, racial and economic justice. “But it’s not an end unto itself.”

The end comes when the state’s racial jobs gap closes, and it’s one heckuva wide gap at the moment. TakeAction Minnesota reports that African-Americans in the Twin Cities are three times more likely to be unemployed as whites — the nation’s worst racial disparity.

While Ban the Box offers applicants a prized opportunity for a face-to-face chat, employers can, and frequently do, reject them anyway, arguing “customer and employee safety,” among other reasons.

TakeAction Minnesota challenges companies to rethink that assumption, noting that one in four adults has a criminal record. They want companies to embrace best hiring practices established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), including a recommendation that questions about criminal records be limited to those that are relevant to the job sought.

A misdemeanor drug offense, for example, shouldn’t preclude an applicant from getting a job stocking cans or working as a cashier, but that’s often what happens. Even violent offenses shouldn’t mean game-over, they add. Many offenses were committed decades earlier and applicants still face one slammed door after another.

TakeAction Minnesota has focused on Target Corp., which the group said is not living up to its community image of hiring people of color. “We’re encouraging Target to be the leader this state needs,” Bergstrom said.

In February, TakeAction Minnesota, along with the NAACP, filed 10 EEOC complaints against Target and referenced 150 additional cases over eight months in which applicants with criminal backgrounds were denied jobs.

Last week, Justin Terrell was one of 20 Minnesotans who attended Target’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Denver to launch a “We Expect More” campaign.

“We’re trying to get Target to understand — you are loved, you have a great footprint in this community,” said Terrell, program manager for a TakeAction Minnesota program called Justice 4 All, which addresses injustices in the criminal justice system.

“But you must be held accountable. Donating iPads to schools is nice. But it would be nicer if Target helped their parent get a job.”

State Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, who supported Ban the Box, spoke at a rally outside the shareholders’ meeting June 12, asking Target “to change their hiring practices so those with criminal backgrounds in their past have real employment opportunities.”

Jim Rowader, vice president of labor and employee relations, said Target has worked “long and hard to develop a nuanced approach to hiring.”

That approach, he said, takes into account the nature of the conviction, how long ago it occurred and the age of the perpetrator when the crime was committed. He added that most people who apply for jobs at Target don’t get them.

In 2012, 4 million people applied for Target jobs nationwide, with 250,000 conditional offers made. “Out of those folks, a very small percentage of people get hired with a criminal record,” Rowader said. “But for every one who got turned down due to a criminal record, two others were hired.”

He sat down with Terrell and a small group of others last week in Denver and said they had “a great discussion. This is an issue we’re very engaged in. We are trying to be thoughtful and trying to lead.”

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