The “Ban the Box” discussion is nothing new for the city of Waterloo. It is a policy that has been being looked at for many years now. I, like many in the community, am very supportive of giving people a second chance. Unfortunately, the current resolution before the council does far more than that. It is an ordinance that strives to eliminate discrimination yet simply moves the discrimination off of felons and onto business owners like me.
The ordinance is extremely anti-business stating that a private employer can only not hire a felon if they have a “legitimate business reason.” This is an egregious political overreach which will almost certainly open the city up to multiple lawsuits from local business owners. In fact, on Monday City Council members received a letter from the city legal department pointing out that in Iowa state code section 364.3 12A it says, “A city shall not adopt, enforce, or otherwise administer an ordinance, motion, resolution, or amendment providing for any terms or conditions of employment that exceed or conflict with the requirements of federal or state law relating to a minimum or living wage rate, any form of employment leave, hiring practices, employment benefits, scheduling practices, or other terms or conditions of employment.”
Unfortunately, like on many issues in the past, the majority of the council chose to overlook this possible legal conflict and take a chance with Waterloo taxpayer dollars. They have apparently learned nothing from several lawsuits previously filed or currently pending against the city.
The ordinance also has many exemptions such as public and private schools, Hawkeye Community College, Black Hawk County, and the State of Iowa. Some of these exemptions make sense as it would be unacceptable to allow a convicted sex offender to work around our youths. However, the ordinance does not protect many others in the community. For example, there are no exemptions for major Waterloo employers such as John Deere, VGM, Bertch Cabinets or Con-Trol. There are no exemptions for our churches, hospitals, clinics or other health facilities. There is no exemption for the Lost Island Waterpark, another place in our community where youths gather. If this ordinance is so good and about second chances why is the council picking and choosing who it actually applies to instead of making it fit all.
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The council had a unique opportunity to pass a good clean ordinance that would have likely received the support of all seven council members. Each of whom stated they support removing the box from job applications. Unfortunately, I believe the intention of this ordinance was never simply to remove the box, rather to force the hands of local employers. I do not believe it is our City Council’s responsibility or right to tell private industries who they can hire.
We continue to be in a competitive business market. We are still constantly competing with Cedar Falls and other eastern Iowa cities. This ordinance adds yet another barrier to success in marketing our city to potential business owners. When they go through a checklist between Waterloo and other cities they will quickly find something on our list that doesn’t exist anywhere else. They will find an interfering, cumbersome and restrictive employment law. Which choice would you make? As a business owner, I have to consider the safety of my employees. This ordinance forces a risk upon employers that is not placed upon federal or state employees nor any other city in the state of Iowa.
I applaud the council members who are asking to press the restart button on this ordinance. They are showing that they not only care about giving second chances, but they also care about protecting the rights of our business community and citizens at large. The council should not pass this ordinance for the third time and instead should craft a new policy that eliminates discrimination of all types, is friendly to attracting new businesses and does not put the city at tremendous legal risk.