Give ex-offenders a Fair Chance to find a job and a home

Tom ChamberlainBy Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO president

On Aug. 9, a canvass was held to gather signatures on the City of Portland Fair Chance for All petition. Fair Chance, also known as Ban the Box, would prohibit employers and landlords in the City of Portland from requiring applicants to reveal on an initial application form if they have been arrested or convicted of a crime. This question is used as a means to whittle down an applicant pool, effectively making the job of the screeners easier. But the effect of such a practice is that ex-offenders are excluded from housing and employment, increasing the likelihood of once again being intertwined in the criminal justice system. A place to live and a steady job are proven to reduce recidivism.

Twelve states and over 60 local jurisdictions have implemented a Fair Chance policy. In Minneapolis, the implementation of a Fair Chance policy resulted in a 54 percent increase in job applicants getting called back for interviews. It’s clear to me that these policies work.

The City of Portland and Multnomah County have implemented a Fair Chance policy for their hiring practices. Implementing a program for everyone who works in Portland is the next logical step, and hopefully, Portland City Council will pass a broader Fair Chance policy this fall.

At a recent community event about Fair Chance, I sat next to a woman in her 50s who had a previous conviction on her record. She’s a mother who for over 10 years has been trying to break into the job market. In a few words, she captured the essence of the Fair Chance movement: “When a child misbehaves, the parent will use discipline as a means to correct behavior. If a timeout or restrictions of activities correct the behavior, the matter is ended and the parent doesn’t continue to discipline the child. But with ex-offenders who serve their sentences and want to rebuild their lives, being denied a job or housing is a cycle of discipline that has no end.”

It’s important to understand what Fair Chance policies will not do. Fair Chance does not stop a landlord or employer from conducting background checks, nor does it deny the right to hire who they deem to be the most qualified. Fair Chance doesn’t supersede state and federal laws that excluded some ex-offenders from certain types of employment.

The canvass was in North Portland, and it was inspiring on several levels. Fair Chance is a righteous issue, and providing information face to face with the citizens of Portland gains support and expands the discussion. The canvassers were from the Urban League, The Bus Project, Oregon Action, and from a variety of local unions.

What we saw Aug. 9 was another step toward rebuilding the progressive movement by community organizations and unions working together toward a common goal. It harkens back to the waning days of the 19th Century and the early days of the 20th Century, where activists working outside the political system built grass-roots support, which overwhelmed the political system and forced great changes like the 8-hour day, women’s voting rights, Social Security, child labor laws, workplace safety, Medicare and Medicaid.  These wins, which are now crucial parts of our society, were all achieved by a diverse group of organizations who fought together to achieve great things.

I’m proud to see Oregon’s unions standing with our community partners as we fight together with the noble hope of accomplishing great things. Learn more and get involved in A Fair Chance for All by visiting

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