City panel recommends approval of ‘ban the box’ initiative

by Patrick Leary of The Journal Times

RACINE — With strong support from multiple aldermen, a city panel on Monday recommended approval of “ban the box,” which would eliminate a question from application forms for city jobs that asks if the applicant has been convicted of a felony.

The effort to pass an ordinance to remove the question from the application form is being led by 9to5 Wisconsin, part of a national group focused on women’s employment rights. Second District Alderman Mollie Jones, Third District Alderman Mike Shields, 11th District Alderman Mary Land, 12th District Alderman Henry Perez and 15th District Alderman Melissa Lemke are co-sponsoring the ordinance, which went before the Finance and Personnel Committee Monday.

“This would allow someone who might have made a mistake another opportunity to get themselves into the workforce,” said Shields, a member of the committee. “Racine has high unemployment and this is one way of helping people get a second chance.”

City Human Resources Manager Timothy Thompkins said that the city stopped asking the question on applications about a month ago when staff first met with 9to5 representatives. He also said that the city has already been applying the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act and only evaluating candidates’ criminal records if the convictions are “substantially related to the job that they’re looking at.”

“Coming out of these communities, there’s a lot of drug convictions,” Thompkins said. “We’re asking people to do waste (collection), we’re asking people to work in the parks. The jobs that they’re doing aren’t substantially related to the crimes that they committed.”

Thompkins added that many of the felons the city hires are some of their best employees.

 Land was the other co-sponsor on the committee.

“When people serve their time, we want them to be rehabilitated, and I don’t know how they can be rehabilitated if they can’t find a job,” she said. “I think this will give them a more even playing field.”

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