San Jose Mercury News: Apple Computer Hiring: Commitment to Second Chances Still Unclear

Less than a week after news broke that Apple barred construction workers with felony conviction records from its new $5 billion Cupertino campus, the tech giant reversed itself. In a statement lifting the restriction, Apple acknowledged that the background process “may have excluded some people who deserve a second chance.”

Apple should be recognized for its quick about-face on the conviction ban, but it can, and should, do more. The company has styled itself as “thinking different” — not just as a slogan, but on salient social issues. At its March annual shareholder meeting, for example, CEO Tim Cook promised improvement on diversity, reinforced by Apple’s recent pledge of $50 million to expand the pipeline for women and people of color in tech. But does Apple’s sweeping diversity statement that “we put inclusion and diversity at our very center” extend to one of today’s pressing civil rights issues?

There are 70 million, or about one in three adults, with arrest or conviction records in the United States. For too many, the stigma of the record presents an insurmountable hurdle to securing employment, even years after the offense. According to a recent poll, about 34 percent of nonworking men of prime working age surveyed had conviction records. And serving time has a tangible impact on men’s annual earnings, dropping them by 40 percent.

Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. So when blanket prohibitions against employing people with records were exercised under the aegis of Apple last week, that policy likely ran afoul of federal civil rights law, which requires individualized assessments.

Although it publicly reversed its ban, Apple has yet to sit down with the iron workers’ union to explain, as requested by the union, “what are the criteria for the ‘case by case basis’ on which Apple will now evaluate workers.”

If Apple’s commitment to “second chances” is genuine, then it should become a vocal corporate leader in the national movement for “fair chance” hiring reform, which has been adopted in 15 states and more than 100 cities and counties.

One component of “fair chance” is to remove the check-box that asks about convictions and to delay any background-check screening. Too often employers discard job seekers who’ve checked the box, regardless of qualifications, job-relatedness of the conviction, or rehabilitation. That’s why Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe “banned the box” earlier this month in his executive order, which followed Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s similar measure.

Just as Apple has pledged to maintain labor and human rights standards with its supplier chain, it should ensure that its subcontractors, including in construction, adopt fair hiring practices.

Apple should also join the nearly 200 organizations and prominent individuals calling on President Barack Obama to take immediate executive action to ensure that federal agencies and contractors remove unnecessary barriers to employment for qualified job candidates with past records. As a major federal contractor, Apple can pave the way for other employers. The federal initiative will translate into real opportunities, as nearly one in four U.S. workers is employed either by a federal contractor, a subcontractor or the federal government.

Apple has inspired a generation with its relentless innovation. Its stated commitment to diversity and values is bold, but to truly inspire, Apple shouldn’t be satisfied. It should answer its own call to advance “equality and human rights” and be a corporate leader in the movement for a fair chance for all.

Michelle Natividad Rodriguez is a senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project in Oakland.

Read the original article in the San Jose Mercury News.

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