Leaders working toward ‘brighter day’ for Northwest Jacksonville’s economy

March 28, 2014. The Florida Times-Union. 

A group of Jacksonville leaders trekked to snowy Cleveland in February to check out an economic initiative they hope to use as a model for the struggling northwest part of the city.

The people behind that Cleveland initiative, a University of Maryland-based nonprofit called The Democracy Collaborative, held a roundtable in Jacksonville on Thursday and Friday to show a larger leadership group what is working in other cities.

Local leaders collectively said they intend to follow through for Northwest Jacksonville, where unemployment is more than double that of the citywide rate.

Residents must “not just have jobs, but a viable future,” said James Wiggins, who pastors a church in Northwest Jacksonville and is co-president of ICARE, the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment, the local group that first connected Cleveland to Jacksonville.

“I believe a brighter day is on the horizon,” he said.

The Democracy Collaborative, called “community wealth building,” is designed to bring jobs and economic investment to neighborhoods by supporting businesses and families that are already there, rather than pushing them aside for redevelopment.

The goal is to spur job creation through local, employee-owned, for-profit companies that support anchor institutions, helping residents to grow a sustainable economy for their own neighborhoods.

The initiative in Cleveland has produced the Evergreen Cooperatives, a network of employee-owned cooperatives that meet the procurement needs of local hospitals and universities. Currently, about 85 people from Cleveland’s low-income neighborhoods work at three employee-owned businesses: an environmentally friendly commercial grade laundry, a solar and LED lighting-installation company and a 3.25-acre greenhouse capable of annually growing 3 million heads of lettuce and 300,000 pounds of herbs, according to the collaborative.

In another city using the model, Atlanta Lettuce Works is being designed as a worker-owned large-scale grower and processor of lettuce and will be located in an impoverished neighborhood. according to the collaborative.

At this week’s event, representatives of those Cleveland and Atlanta projects and of others in Washington, Pittsburgh and Amarillo, Texas, met with city officials and representatives of the nonprofit, business, financial sectors, among others. By early May, the collaborative will compile a report for Jacksonville — based on input from the roundtable — about what the next steps could be.

Jacksonville has “accomplished great things” on its own, but collaborating with other cities can boost progress, said Nina Waters, president of the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, who was on that February trip and was a roundtable speaker.

“They have learned the way to do this. We don’t have to make our own mistakes. We can learn from the mistakes of others,” she said.

Northwest Jacksonville residents and businesses themselves must play key roles, said Paul Tutwiler, CEO of the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corp., which emphasizes education, housing rehabilitation and economic development.

“Of, for and by the people,” he said. “An experiment can be great if you’re the scientist. If you’re the rabbit, it doesn’t feel the same.”

Ordinance approved to remove convicted felon box on job applications

March 14, 2014. WLKY.COM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. —A group that gathered in downtown Louisville wasn’t thinking outside the box, they wanted it banned.

Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together, also known as CLOUT, held a rally outside Louisville Metro Hall Thursday evening calling for the removal of the convicted felon box on initial job applications.

CLOUT said it conducted 26 research meetings in the past 18 months and found that 160,000 Louisville residents have a criminal record.

Pastor Larry Sykes said it’s not fair for potential employees who don’t have violent criminal histories.

“There are many citizens who are qualified to do the work, but they don’t often get that chance because employees often use that box as a way to weed out employees,” said Sykes.

After the rally CLOUT members went to the Louisville Metro Council meeting.

Council members approved an ordinance Thursday night that would remove the convicted felon box from job applications.

Metro Council unanimously passes “Ban the Box” bill

March 13, 2014. WDRB.COM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Metro Council members unanimously passed the “Ban the Box” bill after almost two hours of debate Thursday night.

The bill would keep the city’s vendors from asking job seekers on their applications if they have been convicted of a crime.

Earlier Thursday, council members and supporters expected the bill to pass easily.

They saw it as a way to help more people get a job beyond what is often a quick “no” decision by potential employers.

The bill passed unanimously, 26 to 0.

It does not keep a city vendor from “asking” an applicant about a criminal record — or from denying a job because of one.

Groups such as Jobs with Justice and CLOUT have lobbied for the bill since last fall.

Mayor Greg Fischer tweeted Thursday evening that he would sign the bill

Criminal conviction question would be stricken from Louisville job applications under ordinance

March 12, 2014. Courier-Journal.

It’s been more than a decade since Adam Carter did time in prison for dealing cocaine — but when it comes to trying to get a job interview, it might as well have been yesterday, he says.

Application after application asks the same question: “Have you ever been charged or convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor?” And as soon as he answered “yes,” it seemed employers were no longer interested.

“It really does amaze me that I made a mistake 14, 15 years ago, but people are still holding that mistake against me,” said Carter, who works as an NCAA baseball umpire but ran into difficulties finding work after being laid off from a previous job.

It’s why Carter hopes the Louisville Metro Council will pass an ordinance tonight that would prohibit city government and city vendors from including a question about criminal convictions on job applications. Supporters say roughly 160,000 Jefferson County adults have criminal records and 40 percent are minorities, resulting in far too many residents being shut out of jobs.

The movement has been dubbed “ban the box” for the check-off box many applications contain. It would not apply to private employers who are not doing business with the city or to other non-city governments within Jefferson County.

“It was really difficult,” Carter said. “I knew a lot of the jobs I was qualified for. I think because I had to check that box that they prejudged me.”

The city and vendors would still be allowed to ask about criminal convictions and conduct background checks. But by striking the question from applications, job seekers would get a chance to explain their situation, supporters say.

Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat, and some Republican members of the council support banning the box from city government job applications — they say the city already has that policy — but they oppose extending the ban to vendors doing business with city government.

“When government starts telling you what to put on your applications — what’s next?” asked Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16th District.

Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Fischer, said city government has 26,000 vendors from small businesses to large companies.

“Making the vendors do it is a completely different level that would be very difficult to implement, and we will oppose that,” Poynter said. He said Fischer would consider vetoing the ordinance.

Poynter said representatives of the administration met with Metro Council members this week and offered amendments dealing with exemptions for certain vendors that, if passed, would satisfy the mayor’s office.

For years, city government has operated without the question on job applications and the current proposal would place that into law, preventing any future administration from reinstating it.

Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7th District, believes the effort is unnecessary because the question is no longer asked on city government applications. He said he will formally request information about the financial impact on government and businesses.

Fleming said administration officials have indicated that implementing and maintaining the process would require additional government employees and possibly an investigator.

Carter and those supporting the change argue that the question hurts the economy by limiting the ability of some qualified workers to support themselves and their families.

“I believe that if you’re looking to move our economy forward and making sure that everyone that is able to be gainfully employed has an opportunity to do so — that a measure like this opens up the marketplace for folks like that,” said Councilman David Tandy, a 4th District Democrat and one of eight sponsors of the legislation.

Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together, a grassroots coalition of churches and religious organizations, is leading the fight for the ban and will hold a rally at city hall at 5 p.m. today.

The Rev. Larry Sykes of Greater Good Hope Baptist Church, co-chair of CLOUT’s Jobs for Ex-Offenders Issue Committee, said disallowing the box won’t not stop an employer from conducting a background check, but he said those cost money and are often late in the hiring process — after an applicant is in the door.

“People who get a chance at interviewing are more likely to be hired than someone who has been weeded out because of a criminal conviction in their past,” he said.

Sykes said including only city government would affect a small number of people — about 1,000 hires a year — but adding vendors would be a tremendous help to people in the community and their families.

He also argues that giving more opportunities to ex-offenders would reduce recidivism — and a resulting drop in spending for courts and corrections.

Sykes said there is not a lot of council Republican support for the ordinance, but CLOUT organizers pointed to the recent passage of a similar ordinance in Indianapolis with bipartisan support.

The City-County Council there passed a measure 26-2 prohibiting the city, vendors and some companies that receive city benefits from asking potential employees about convictions on the application or in the first interview.

Carter, who was convicted in 1998 and served time from 2000-03, had a good support system and worked as a general manager and partner in a fast-food franchise until it was sold in 2011 and then worked in accounting and business administration with a local company until it downsized.

“That is when I really began to experience how hard it was as a convicted felon to get a job,” Carter said. “Out of incarceration, I had an opportunity. I had never had to experience checking that box.”

But, once he did, Carter said he felt there were jobs he was qualified for but not considered because of his conviction. He said he feels good about his chances if he can get an interview and tell his story.

“Everybody has made a mistake in the past,” he said. “I think the difference is some of us were caught and some of us were not caught.”

Broward tells contractors: Hire poor, homeless and felons

March 11, 2014. Sun Sentinel.

People who have the toughest time landing a job — felons, homeless, high school dropouts,welfare and food stamp recipients, military veterans and the poor — would get a hiring boost under a proposed law working its way to passage at the Broward County Commission.

The law, dubbed the “Broward County Workforce Investment Act,” would require county contractors to give at least half the new, contract-related jobs to the “economically disadvantaged,” the “hard-to-hire,” or job candidates from CareerSource Broward (formerly WorkForce One), the official jobs clearinghouse here.

Failure to do so would draw penalties of $1,500 per job. Exceeding the requirement would bring a bonus of $500 per job.

Job opportunities would have to be posted first for five days with CareerSource, before being advertised to the general public.

Broward’s unemployment rate is low, at 5 percent. But Commissioner Dale Holness said the people who make up that 5 percent need help.

“We are looking after those who have great need to be hired, those who are unemployed,” Holness said. “And as we discussed previously, those who are unemployed have a very difficult time getting employed, even if they are skilled, even if they have all the qualifications.”

Commissioners have for months debated and delayed the controversial law, first proposed by Holness, who represents Broward’s poorest district. More debate is expected at the final hearing on April 11, when commissioners will also consider a version proposed by Commissioner Lois Wexler. Her version doesn’t impose fines, among other differences.

The measure is similar to laws on the books in Miami-Dade County.

“The key is nobody up here wants to say they don’t support this,” said County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, the sole Republican on the nine-member commission. “I think everybody does. We are trying to figure out a way to make it work.”

The hiring preferences would apply to county contracts $250,000 or higher, for construction-related work or other specific jobs, including food preparation, security, maintenance and cleaning, maintenance, clerical work, parking and transportation, printing and landscaping.

To avoid fines, the contractor must try to fill half the new jobs with employees who are economically disadvantaged, hard to hire, referrals from CareerSource or one of its community partners, or through an apprenticeship program. Or the contractor could hire someone “without the skills, experience or qualifications” and train them through CareerSource or one of its partners.

CareerSource’s partners include the Urban League of Broward County, the OIC ofBroward County, the Broward County School Board, the Mt. Olive Development Corp., and ResBeat.

Under the proposal, “hard to hire” means people have a criminal felony record, are mentally or physically impaired, lack a GED or high school diploma, are a military veteran or were homeless for six of the past 12 months.

And “economically disadvantaged” people include those who have low income, have been trying unsuccessfully to get a job for six months, or are on welfare or food stamps.

Had it been in place this year, the proposal would have impacted 58 companies, county officials said.

The same companies are already required to pay their lowest wage workers a higher minimum wage, set by the county. The state minimum wage is $7.93 an hour. Broward’s living wage is $11.46 an hour.

Broward staff said estimating the financial impact of the law is difficult in some respects, especially if contractors choose not to bid on county jobs because of it.

“A reduced number of bidders may inhibit competition and drive up prices,” a county memo reads.

The law wouldn’t apply to contractors who operate with unions, or whose work falls under state or federal guidelines prohibiting local-based hiring requirements. And contractors who make a “good faith” effort but fail could also be excused.

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken a position, but President Dan Lindblade said that personally, “I don’t think government should dictate to a company how to source employees.”

Contacted Tuesday, some companies that do major contract work with the county said they had no problem with the new requirements.

“I honestly don’t consider this to be a major hardship,” George Boue, vice president of human resources for Stiles Corp., said of the ordinance. “It’s reasonable and logical.”

The Fort Lauderdale firm, which has managed several large county construction jobs, including the recently completed downtown courthouse parking garage, already has policies aimed at hiring veterans, Boue said.

“I think most companies, especially civic-minded companies, we try to do the right thing.”

Boue said having a clearinghouse like CareerSource Broward will even help the businesses fulfill the new ordinance’s demands.

“When there’s some type of entity that facilitates this, it makes it better for the employer,” he said.

Randy Kierce, chief operating officer for Sunshine Cleaning Systems in Fort Lauderdale, called the new law “a positive thing.”

For his company, which has janitorial contracts at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and county libraries, the new ordinance won’t mean big changes.

“Some of the things they’re talking about in the ordinance, we’re already doing,” Kierce said. “We’ve worked with people in the past that kind of fit in with the description in the ordinance.”

The company already has mentally disadvantaged workers on its payroll, as well as those with criminal records. “We’ve got people out there that have been arrested,” Kierce said. “We believe in second chances.”

A faith-based organization, B.O.L.D. Justice, praised commissioners Tuesday for their unanimous vote to set the public hearing.