Portland considers ‘Ban the Box’ ordinance

Portland mayor Charlie Hales mingles with "ban the box" supporters outside City Hall
Portland mayor Charlie Hales mingles with “ban the box” supporters outside City Hall (Photo by Russell Sanders, courtesy Oregon AFL-CIO)

The City of Portland is considering an ordinance to give people with criminal records a better shot at starting over and becoming gainfully employed.

The ordinance would require employers to postpone asking or about or checking criminal backgrounds until after they make a conditional offer of employment. It would also bar employers from legally discriminating against people for their criminal backgrounds unless the employer determines that their offense has a direct relationship to their ability to perform the job. And employers would be expected to consider the nature and gravity of the offense, as well as how much time has elapsed since the offense took place.

The proposed ordinance, sponsored by Portland mayor Charlie Hales, got a first hearing March 11. Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain spoke in support, saying the current process penalizes people who’ve already paid their debt to society.

Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain urges support of a City of Portland “ban the box” ordinance at a March 11 hearing (Photo by Russell Sanders, courtesy of Oregon AFL-CIO)

“I’ve lived in this city all my life, and I’ve seen Portland grow from a city that had a lot of prejudice in the ’60s to a city today where we consider ourselves to be pretty tolerant,” Chamberlain told members of City Council. “My Portland’s about giving people a fair chance.”

Fair Chance for All is the name of the coalition working to pass the ordinance. The coalition is led by the Urban League of Portland, with the backing of the Oregon AFL-CIO and support from the Oregon Bus Project. So far, the coalition has gathered signatures from over 7,000 individuals on a support petition. It’s also endorsed by more than 50 organizations, including a number labor groups: Oregon AFSCME, Letter Carriers Branch 82, Northwest Oregon Labor Council, Roofers Local 49, SEIU locals 503 and 49, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, and the United Steelworkers. As of press time, no date had been set for a vote on the ordinance, versions of which have passed in other cities around the country.

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