Five city employees were fired this week, even though they performed their jobs well nor did anything wrong on the job. Their only crime was being a criminal.
The Pittsbugh Post-Gazette has been reporting this case for a fortnight, yet has failed to work-up its typical furor over the incident, probably realizing that in some fashion they were the catalyst for the firings of these hard-working city employees.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette made a hullabaloo in Rich Lord’s July 12 article “Pittsburgh’s Public Works lacking discipline consistency” wherein a city employee who was arrested for a drug charge in 2007 was later fired for the Bull-Shit reason that he failed to mark on his city employment application that he was charged with a felony in his youth. They should have just fired him for the drug thing, but there are protocols to deal with, so they used this much easier way: firing him for providing false info on his application. He complained, and rightfully so, that the city was acting inconsistently in firing him, because there were other city employees who were also convicted criminals who failed to 'check the felon box' on their employment applications and were still working for the city.
In the aftermath of the story, other news outlets demanded to see worker lists and background checks. The city and Mayor, in typical reactionary fashion, found six more convicted felons that failed to ‘check the felon box’ on their applications, and were originally all suspended. Five were fired Monday. (See Pittsburgh Dept of Public Works suspends no-tell payrollers, July 14.)
What’s crazy is that these firings come after quotes from city Operations Diretor Art Victor like:
"Certainly the public trust issue is something that we always consider," Mr. Victor said. "But again, you have to balance that against the fact that you can't discriminate against somebody just solely based on their history."
But that’s presicely what they have done, for the sake of consistency. And…
[the city] "can't have a blanket statement or blanket policy that we're not going to hire anybody who has a felony conviction. We would be consigning people to a life sentence for something that they've already paid the price for."
Exactly! As one of the fired workers said,
"My record is clean, even my city record. I've never even been late."
So the real question is…
"When is somebody's debt to society paid?" as asked by Teamsters Local 249 Vice President Joe Rossi, "Where do we draw the line?"
I say we draw the line at removing the “felon box” from city applications. There is a reason former felons don't check the felon box: They don't get hired! A small lie can mean the difference between a potential interview, and your application in the recycling bin. Public works isn’t out there providing child care or even handling money, or other high risk jobs. Public Works trims trees, collects garbage, paints, sweeps streets, drives trucks. These are not jobs that a criminal record should even be considered about. If somebody’s debt to society has been paid, it is our job as a society to help reintegrate them back into life. It’s the most rehabilitative thing we could do. I say re-hire the fired employees, and at a policy level, I say Ban the Box!
"They're gonna throw the book at him, Nick. Your son or not."
~Mr. Gunther, esq.