By Joseph Kenner, President and CEO of Greyston (www.greyston.org), a leading bakery and pioneer of Open Hiring®, and David Levine, President of the American Sustainable Business Network (www.asbnetwork.org).
Businesses in New York are facing an unprecedented labor shortage and a solution is well within reach: Open and inclusive hiring. In the midst of the “Great Resignation,” businesses are trying to fill more than 11 million jobs nationwide. At the same time, we’re needlessly restricting labor market access for 2.3 million New Yorkers because of old convictions – many of them more than a decade old. This exclusion of qualified and able employees has negative consequences for these workers and their families, for our communities, and for our entire economy. With passage of the Clean Slate NY legislation under review by the NY Senate, this problem becomes part of the solution to worker shortages while benefitting NY-based companies and our economy. Research shows that people who obtain expungement experience a sharp upturn in their wage and employment trajectories averaging wages increasing within one year by over 22% versus the pre-expungement trajectory.
Our Governor and legislature can follow the lead of states including CT, MI, PA, and UT to provide a boost for our economy and improve the quality of life for formerly incarcerated residents. New York should pass Clean Slate legislation as part of next month’s budget, allowing those in our state who have served their sentences – for crimes excluding sex offenses – to automatically have their conviction records sealed after a set period of time. Under New York’s existing law, the record sealing process is complicated, time consuming, and expensive – less than one percent of eligible individuals have completed the process. Many of those who qualify for relief are unaware that it is an option, many more aren’t even eligible to apply. Under Clean Slate, eligibility would be expanded and sealing would become automatic, lowering the barriers to employment for New Yorkers with old criminal records. These proposed bills, S1553 (Myrie) and A06399 (Cruz), will help restore dignity and justice for hundreds of thousands of workers every year, allowing them to get back to work and reinvigorate our economy.
As business leaders in NYS, we have worked with companies to identify solutions that support an equitable, regenerative, and just economy for everyone. We know, as all employers do, that sustainable businesses require a reliable and well-trained workforce. Yet here in New York, we continue to maintain substantial and unfair barriers to employment. That has significant consequences for our communities – post-release employment is one of the biggest factors in determining whether or not an individual will re-offend. In fact, recent studies have shown that after five years, individuals who have their records cleared are less likely to commit a crime than the general public. By helping deserving individuals get back into the workforce, Clean Slate will prevent crime across the state.
Clean Slate is also a step towards racial equity. The ongoing racial disparities in our criminal justice system mean that impacted workers are disproportionately likely to be people of color. The consequences are also far harsher – the effects of a criminal record on employment are 40 percent more damaging for Black men than for white men. Over the past two years, business leaders across the country, including many American Sustainable Business Network members, have committed to working to close the racial equity gaps across our country and our businesses. Clean Slate represents an immediate step forward.
Since 1982, Greyston has operated an effective hiring model to bring once excluded populations into the workforce, and have in effect transformed the lives and families of those employed. The Open Hiring® employment model essentially means hiring the next person through the door. Job seekers need only to add their names to a job list, so that when the next job becomes available, they get it — no questions asked, no resume review, no interview or background check. It is inclusive hiring in its purest form, and it works. These employees enable the Greyston bakery team to provide nearly 50,000 pounds of brownies every day for customers like Ben & Jerry’s/Unilever and Whole Foods.
The economic benefits are profound – the exclusion of workers with conviction histories from the workforce costs New York nearly $2 billion a year in lost wages. New Yorkers who have served their time deserve a second chance at a time when our businesses need them most. As business leaders, we have an obligation to work towards a more just society. Clean Slate legislation is a smart move. It’s time to pass the New York Clean Slate Act.