“Banning the Box” on job applications for companies who contract with the city of Tampa was a bridge too far for the City Council to consider back in February, but it’s good enough for the Koch Brothers and other major corporations.
In February, the Council declined to pass a law that would have “banned the box” for city contractors. “Ban the box” refers to the nationwide movement that has spread over the past decade, where local governments have removed the check box from job applicants asking whether the candidate has a criminal history (It’s also called “fair-hiring”). Instead, the council passed an ordinance requiring the city to ask bidders for contracts whether they solicit criminal history in their job applications. Those answers aren’t supposed to factor into whether or not they win a city contract, but was intended to prod them into considering eliminating the question.
The local activist group HOPE (Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality) had pushed the council for months to pass the ordinance, but City Attorney Julia Mandell said she feared a potential lawsuit, citing the fact that there was no case law available.
Tampa did approve banning the box for applications for city employees two years earlier, a move that was matched last year by the city of St. Petersburg.
On Monday, Koch Industries, Inc. announced that it would stop asking job applicants whether they’ve ever been convicted of a crime. General counsel Mark Holden said in a statement that the company believes they “shouldn’t be rejecting people at the very start of the hiring process who may otherwise be capable and qualified, and want an opportunity to work hard.”
“The fact that more and more of our nation’s major employers—including a company like Koch Industries that is synonymous with conservative politics—are choosing to embrace fair-chance hiring policies shows that this is an idea with broad appeal whose time has come,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “The private sector increasingly understands that treating all job applicants fairly, including people with records, is not just good for society, it’s good for business.”
Koch Industries is a $115 billion company and is one of the country’s largest employers, with more than 60,000 employees. The Koch Brothers — Charles and David — support conservative and libertarian causes, making them a bete noir with liberals, who have made the term “Koch Brothers” an epithet. In January they announced that they would spend $889 million to help elect a Republican candidate, and Charles Koch told USA Today last week that they will ultimately support one of five candidates: Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul or Marco Rubio.
But despite their conservative leanings, they’ve been aggressive in trying to reform the criminal-justice system in recent years. In an op-ed in Politico published in January, Charles Koch and Holden laid out their five-point plan to reform the system, including the end to mandatory minimum sentences for crimes, and restoring “all rights” to youthful and nonviolent offenders after serving a sentence.
“If ex-offenders can’t get a job, education or housing, how can we possibly expect them to have a productive life? And why should we be surprised when more than half of the people released from prison are again incarcerated within three years of their release?” the authors wrote.
The National Employment Law Project reports that 16 states and more than 100 cities and counties have adopted fair-chance hiring policies, and six of those states and 25 cities and counties have done what Tampa wouldn’t do — applying their policies not only to government jobs but also to government contractors or private employers.
Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond are other corporations that have “banned the box.”