In the words of Austin City Council member Greg Casar, March 24 was “a really big day.”
Council voted that evening on a policy championed by Casar to address fair chance hiring and help make it easier for people to have a second chance and break a cycle of poverty. The vote passed 8-2. Now, private companies in Austin will be required to delay checking job applicants’ criminal histories until after they have extended a conditional offer of employment.
Casar explained the merits of the policy on the eve of the vote: “Almost one year ago, we kicked off two pieces of economic opportunity and civil rights legislation: raising the minimum wage for thousands of our workers that labor on City projects, and Fair Chance hiring rules for Austin’s private sector.
“We live in the richest nation in human history. And for those of us in Austin, we live within one of its most prosperous cities. But we all know that too many people still face daily economic struggles. I believe—and I know that many of you believe—that economic opportunity for our communities comes with putting power back in the hands of ordinary people.
“Giving people the right and responsibility to vote, creates a stronger democracy. Giving people the right and responsibility to be educated makes for a thoughtful, creative city. Rights to due process, free speech, and privacy make us more fair and just. I believe that the right to compete for a job—without the boot of discrimination on your neck—and the right to demand a fair wage can make our economy truly strong. Not just for some, but for all.
“By voting ‘Yes’ on Fair Chance Hiring and Living Wages Tomorrow, I hope our Council shows a commitment to an economy that isn’t just measured by capital investment or the stock market, but also measured by the opportunities that everyday working families have in our city. Tomorrow, Austin can become the first Fair Chance Hiring city in the South. We can show that we’re a city truly committed to fighting discrimination against those communities that are over over-represented in our criminal justice system. We can show that we’re a city that believes in second chances, and that believes that inclusion, not exclusion, will make us stronger.
“Tomorrow we can become the first city in Texas that guarantees a $13/hour minimum wage to all those contract workers who labor daily for our taxpayers, but who are often left behind in our protections for workers. This is about the food service workers at the airport. The construction laborers who construct our buildings. We can show that we’re committed to doing business with employers that do high quality work by creating high quality jobs, and thereby make our whole city better for it.”
After the vote passed, Casar stated, “All the high rankings Austin gets for food and business growth and festivals are good—but they aren’t what makes us great. We’re a great city when we give people hope, give people opportunity, and when we speak as one family and say ‘welcome home.’ We know we’re all better off for it.”