The Albany County Legislature’s Democratic leadership threw its support Thursday behind a new law that would strike questions about the criminal history of job seekers from the county’s job applications so all candidates can get a fair chance at obtaining work.
Introduced by Legislator Samuel I. Fein (D–6th District) and other members of the Majority Minority District Caucus, the Albany County Fair Chance Act would prevent the county from inquiring about a job applicant’s criminal record through a question, interview, or box during the job application process. Supporters want to ensure all job candidates, regardless of their arrest record or criminal history, receive equal treatment when trying to find employment with Albany County, said Fein, who represents the South End of Albany.
“I constantly hear about the challenges that so many people face in finding employment because they are judged based on a mistake they made earlier in their lives, rather than their qualifications,” Fein said. “I am proud to propose legislation that will ‘ban the box’ on all Albany County job applications.”
Co-sponsoring the legislation are Albany County Legislature Chairman Sean Ward (D – 16th District), Majority Leader Frank Commisso (D – 11th District), Deputy Majority Leader Lucille McKnight (D – 1st District), Merton Simpson (D – 2nd District), Wanda Willingham (D – 3rd District), Norma Chapman (D – 4th District) and William Clay (D – 12th District).
Fein, Commisso and Simpson and others attended a media event Thursday morning outside the Albany County office building at 112 State St., Albany, to discuss the newly proposed “Local Law N.” Joining them were Alice Green, director of the Center for Law and Justice, former county legislator James H. Bouldin, Richard Harris, president of One Hundred Black Men, Tina Allen, secretary of Anuanzeh Association of United Women of the Capital District, and Shataya Scott, who operates Braids for Grades in downtown Albany.
McKnight pointed out that an increasing number of states, cities and companies in the U.S. do not allow questions about criminal pasts on job applications to protect job applicants against potential discrimination. Albany County is the first county in the Capital Region to consider such legislation. You can view the proposed law here.
“This issue is vitally important for any person that is trying rehabilitate their lives, but especially for African-Americans, who are incarcerated at much higher rates than others,” Chapman said.
The new law would not stop the county from undertaking required background checks or checking a person’s criminal record after a conditional offer of employment is made. If the county determines an applicant’s convictions may justify rescinding a job offer, the applicant would have an opportunity to respond.
“It’s important that we expand opportunities to people in our communities,” said Willingham. “Many people who have been previously incarcerated are working to make a better life for themselves and we need to give them a second chance.”
State law prohibits discrimination in employment on the grounds of an arrest or a conviction, but it is very difficult to prove, Simpson said. “The Albany County Fair Chance Act would give employers the ability to make a decision on an applicant’s fitness for a job without the pernicious bias that comes with a criminal record,” he said.