By the end of the year, employers who do business with the city of New Orleans likely won’t be allowed to check the credit histories of most of their workers, a ban supporters say will help prevent low-income residents from being continually penalized for past debt struggles.
The City Council voted 6-0 Thursday to pass the “Equal Access to Employment Act,” prohibiting city contractors from checking credit reports as they make hiring and compensation decisions.
Councilman Jared Brossett, sponsor of the ordinance, said it is aimed at breaking a cycle in which low-income residents rack up debt that later bars them from getting the jobs they need to pull themselves out of debt.
“At the end of the day, this will protect our workforce and make a more fair playing field for all New Orleanians, providing opportunity for employees to be hired based on their performance and not their credit history,” Brossett said.
“We’re definitely continuing to push the envelope and put this city on a more progressive path,” he added.
The ordinance would cover all employees hired for more than 40 hours of work a year on city contracts within the city’s geographic boundaries.
It includes exemptions for workers whose jobs require a credit check as part of their qualifications. It also exempts those who have direct access to more than $10,000 of their employers’ funds and those requiring a security clearance, situations where someone with significant debt could be tempted into criminal activity.
The ordinance now heads to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is expected to sign it. Assuming he does, the prohibition will go into effect in six months.
The ban is the latest of several measures undertaken by both the administration and the City Council to use city spending to drive up employment and wages among the city’s residents.
While limited by state laws that prohibit the city from setting its own minimum wage or establishing other requirements for all private businesses, the city has established a “living wage” of $10.55 an hour for city workers and contractors, done away with questions about previous criminal history on its own employment applications and introduced policies to get firms doing business with the city to hire local workers.
“Part of what we need to convince the people of this city of is that if you’re working hard, doing what you’re supposed to do, we’re going to make sure you have a chance to succeed,” Councilman James Gray said.
Brossett said those penalized by poor credit often are not to blame for their plight, saying many incurred unexpected medical expenses, are paying off student loans or have faced financial hardship in the past. And in some cases, he said, poor credit is entirely out of their control, such as workers who have been the victim of identity theft.
The ordinance won praise from the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, which has argued that fair access to good-paying jobs is key to ensuring that residents can make ends meet.
Policy analyst Maxwell Ciardullo said credit checks also can be discriminatory, as the foreclosure crisis several years ago disproportionately affected black and Latino residents, leaving many with poor credit.
Credit checks “limit their ability to provide for themselves and their families,” he said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.