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Former NAACP head calls on Apple to do more than just rescind discriminatory hiring policy

By Mark Ames , written on April 13, 2015

From The News Desk

Last week, we reported on Apple's discriminatory ban on hiring construction workers with felony convictions and those with pending felony cases from working on its new $5 billion "space ship" office complex in Cupertino. Our reporting focused not only on the immorality of such a discriminatory ban against those still innocent under the law, and those who already served their time — but on how Apple's policy was likely illegal too, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. (See here, here, here and here.) By the end of last week, Apple backed down and announced it had rescinded its discriminatory hiring policy.

Now, civil rights and union leaders are calling on Apple to do more. Former NAACP President and CEO, Ben Jealous, published an op-ed yesterday with Heather Warnken of UC Berkeley School of Law explaining why Apple's policy was so wrong, while also raising serious questions about the world's richest company's commitment to doing right:

"Apple’s quick response was encouraging. . . . Still, the company’s response leaves too many unanswered questions about the status of the fired workers, the contours of Apple’s internal policy, and the company’s commitment to ensuring that this will never happen again."
In their op-ed, Jealous and Warnken offer three rather simple, straight-forward suggestions on how Apple can demonstrate its genuine commitment to fighting discrimination, as Tim Cook has tried showing by leading the corporate backlash against Indiana's recent discriminatory anti-gay law:

Apple should publicly address the fate of the fired employees.

Reports have indicated that Apple may have plans to reevaluate or rehire the impacted employees, but it should make this intention publicly clear. The number of workers fired may have been small compared with Apple’s national employee base, but a job is important for any single worker, especially one operating in the context of perpetual discrimination.

Apple should clarify its hiring policies and publicly “Ban the Box”.

In yesterday’s statement, Apple leaders denied practicing blanket discrimination — but at the same time acknowledged that workers on the campus project had been victims of discrimination. In order to clear things up, Apple should work with community leaders to develop transparent and inclusive hiring policies that ensure that all applicants are considered regardless of their past mistakes. Crucially, the company should agree not to deny employment to people whose crimes are irrelevant to the job at hand.

Apple should also follow in the footsteps of large companies in other fields and announce a company-wide “Ban the Box” program. The company already claims that it considers all applicants on a “case by case” basis, and it could stand by this promise by removing questions about job applicants’ criminal records from initial employment applications. Walmart and other major companies have already “banned the box”, alongside cities like San Francisco, 15 states and over 100 other cities and counties nationwide.

Apple should move Silicon Valley forward on second chance employment.

Finally, Apple should use its perch as an industry leader to move Silicon Valley forward on fair hiring practices for applicants with criminal records.

Meanwhile, the union that first brought the case public and is representing the fired Apple construction workers—Iron Workers Local Union 377—released this statement over the weekend:

“At its general membership meeting last night, Friday, April 10, 2015, Iron Workers Local 377 discussed Apple's recent rescission of its policy barring individuals with prior felony convictions or pending felony charges from employment in the construction of its Apple 2 campus.  While we appreciate Apple's stated commitment to "second chances," we do not know and so are obliged to ask what are the criteria for the "case by case basis" on which Apple will now evaluate workers.  We fully understand Apple's legitimate needs for security, but we believe strongly that there must be a nexus between those needs and any criteria for evaluation and possible exclusion of workers.  We note that this nexus may be very different for workers directly employed by Apple and workers employed in construction of its facilities.  We remain willing to meet with Apple to work toward a policy that serves at the same time its security needs and the commitment to second chances that has always been ours and that Apple has now openly declared, and we will continue to train individuals from all communities, without regard to a history of difficulties with the American legal system, in quality, safety, and productivity, so that they can build for Apple a campus of which we and it will be proud.”