WATERLOO — A recently approved ban-the-box hiring ordinance is still fueling fiery debates among city leaders.
Waterloo City Council members voted 4-2 Oct. 7 to approve the controversial measure preventing employers from asking about criminal histories of job applicants until the end of the hiring process.
But tempers flared Monday when the ordinance returned for several changes to clarify who it covers, how it will be enforced and to delay the start until July 1 to provide time for more public education.
Council members Pat Morrissey, Sharon Juon, Ray Feuss and Jerome Amos Jr. voted to approve the amendments, while Margaret Klein, Bruce Jacobs and Steve Schmitt opposed them.
Jacobs rankled Morrissey when he suggested the ordinance should be scrapped rather than revised because it violates state law.
“When the four vote for this tonight they will be violating state code right now and violating their oath of office as a councilperson,” Jacobs said.
Morrissey called the comment “an insult” and “downright wrong.”
“I am not breaking any oath of office by trying to promote human and civil rights for the most diverse city in the Midwest,” he said.
Klein said she supports removing the criminal history question from a job application but contends it should be fair game during an interview.
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“You can coat it with as much butter as you want, but it’s not going to make it fair to employers and they know it,” Klein said. “You’re harming business in Waterloo.”
But Klein drew a rebuke from Juon when she suggested the measure means residents won’t hire a Waterloo plumber, for example, because they’ll worry about a felon being in their home.
“Please don’t be frightened that this bill is going to allow some dangerous criminal to come into your house,” Juon said. “The business still does the criminal check. They can still rescind that offer. It doesn’t effect that at all.”
The ordinance prevents employers from having the criminal history question on a job application. Employers with 15 or more employees can’t perform a background check until a conditional job offer is made. That offer can be rescinded if the background check finds a legitimate business reason to do so.
The amendments passing the first of three readings this week clarify that violations do not give a job applicant the right to sue. Complaints about violations would be investigated by the Human Rights Commission, and it would be up to the city attorney to decided whether enough evidence exists to issue a citation to be adjudicated in the court system.
Those proposed changes also exempt employers who are required by state and federal law to ask about criminal backgrounds during the initial application.
Schmitt, who was not present when the ordinance passed Oct. 7, said business leaders are “just irate” over the ordinance.
“The business community is not happy about this,” he said. “I’m not going to waste anybody’s time telling you about some of the threats I’ve heard, but none of them are good and none of them are going to be positive for the city of Waterloo.”