The Common Council on Tuesday voted, 7-2, to “ban the box,” making it illegal for any employer in the City of Buffalo to ask job seekers on their applications if they have ever been convicted of a crime.
The measure will now be submitted to Mayor Byron W. Brown for his signature, but the strong support in Council Chambers on Tuesday points to a veto-proof majority and the likelihood it will become law.
Introduced by Masten Council Member Demone A. Smith, the measure recognizes that stopping employers from asking job applicants to check a box on job applications if they have a criminal record allows those who have served time or been convicted of minor offenses to at least get an interview. The idea then is to allow interviewers to ask the question, but to make decisions to hire or not after the benefit of a conversation.
Having to check the box is one reason ex-cons have higher unemployment rates, Smith argued.
Council Members David A. Franczyk of Fillmore and Joseph Golombek Jr. of North voted against the measure, arguing that asking the question on applications allows employers to know about a criminal background from the beginning.
But the Council voted to follow about 40 other local jurisdictions around the country – many of them big cities – to ban the criminal box check-off. Now all employers – not just the city – will be barred from asking the question on applications.
“It allows an applicant to get through the door without judgement, but it does not allow them to hide it,” said Council President Richard A. Fontana.
Indeed, the Council president stressed that any employer can ask any question about criminal records during an interview, but the new measure at least allows an applicant to state their case.
Some exemptions – such as for those applying to be police officers, teachers or child care workers – are included in the new law.
The measure was pushed by Jeffrey Conrad, a former South Council member who is now regional director of the Center for Employment Opportunities. Fontana said he expects Conrad to now make the same case before the Erie County Legislature.
Still, the measure was opposed by Golombek, who said he is sympathetic to allowing a “second chance” for those convicted of crimes but found widespread opposition from small-business owners.
“They said they would want to know beforehand,” he said, adding the measure serves as a slap in the face to law-abiding citizens applying for jobs.
“People who do the right thing their whole lives don’t have to mark anything that they were a felon,” he said.
Michael J. DeGeorge, spokesman for Brown, did not return a call asking whether the mayor supports the new measure .
In other action, the Council voted to ask the State Liquor Authority to notify the Council about the planned opening of new liquor stores in the city in the same manner as it does now for new licenses for bars and restaurants.