Amanda L. Scott is an Alabama native, D.C. transplant, civil rights paralegal in the Georgetown University Class of 2019.
I almost missed out on my dream job because of $400 in medical debt. After receiving a job offer, I agreed to undergo a credit check as part of a routine background investigation.
My credit report showed two debts from visits to urgent care centers. When my mom lost her job, I was unable to afford health insurance for two and a half years — pushing me into medical debt.
I never imagined that my debts would affect my job prospects. But the hiring manager told me I had to show that the debts had been paid or removed from my credit report before they could move forward with my approval.
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act permits employers to make employment decisions based on the credit history of job applicants. Under the 1970 law, employers must first obtain written permission from job applicants or current employees to conduct a credit check. Employers then must notify job applicants or current employees if they take “adverse action” against them based on their credit report.
Although employers cannot obtain employees’ credit scores, they can access the details of their credit reports, including the balances and payments on student loans borrowed, home mortgages taken out, credit cards opened and bankruptcies filed.
As I considered future employment opportunities, I was put in a difficult position: Should I pay off my medical debt and risk being unable to pay my current bills, or should I let the job opportunities go and risk being unemployed?
I ultimately was able to pay off the debt for a better future for myself, but many people are not in that position. Often, people lose out on jobs because of poor credit, usually for reasons that are out of their control.
A 2013 survey by Demos, a public policy organization that combats inequality, showed that 10 percent of respondents who were unemployed had been informed that they would not be hired because of some facet of their credit history. The same survey indicated that 1 out of every 7 job applicants with “blemished credit histories” had been told they were not hired because of their credit history.
Over the past decade, employers have increasingly used credit checks to assess job applicants’ character, judgment, reliability and even their likelihood to commit theft or fraud. According to a 2012 report by the Society for Human Resource Management — a professional society for human resources — 47 percent of employers check candidates’ credit histories.
Employers may think: if job candidates cannot be trusted to pay their personal debts, how can they be trusted to do their jobs?
Yet poor credit is more likely to be the result of uncontrollable factors such as unemployment, lack of health insurance and medical debt, rather than character flaws or bad judgment. A study from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that 52 percent of all delinquent accounts reported by collection agencies were from medical debt.
Moreover, problems of poor credit are more likely to affect already disadvantaged communities, such as people of color. Black and Latinx householders tend to have lower credit scores on average than white householders, largely due to predatory lending and credit discrimination against these communities. Demos has also noted that communities of color are disproportionately likely to have poor credit reports.
The good news is that legislation is in the works to emphasize equality in our employment system. In September, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) reintroduced the Equal Employment for All Act of 2017, which would prohibit employers from using credit checks against prospective and current employees for the purposes of making employment decisions.
“It makes no sense to make it harder for people to get jobs because of a system of credit reporting that has no correlation with job performance,” Warren said when reintroducing the bill in the U.S. Senate.
Eleven states have already passed laws limiting credit checks in employment, an important step toward equalizing our employment system. A 2016 study at Harvard University found that laws prohibiting credit checks have had a positive effect on employment rates in communities with poor credit. Those with average credit scores below 620 — generally considered poor credit — saw an employment increase by roughly 3.7 to 7.5 percent.
Banning credit checks in employment is not the silver bullet to reducing unemployment or solving poverty by any means. Expanding job training opportunities, investing in community programs on financial literacy and strengthening the social safety net are also critical.
But while it has not been proven that credit checks are an effective reflection of employment performance, it has been shown that banning them positively affects communities with poor credit. As such, we must push our legislators to support the Equal Employment for All Act, which would prohibit employers’ use of credit checks, and introduce greater equality into the employment process.
This article originally appeared in The Hoya on November 14, 2017.
Georgetown University’s contract with its union of adjunct professors is a significant model that merits replication in other institutions of higher education, says a new report issued by the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, entitled Just Employment in Action: Adjunct Unionization and Contract Negotiation at Georgetown University.
Two years after they began organizing with Local 500 of the Service Employees International Union, adjunct professors ratified a union contract with Georgetown University in October 2014. From the beginning of the adjuncts’ decision to organize a union, the university’s response was guided by its Just Employment Policy, which was adopted in 2005. That policy, which acknowledged the rights of employees to freely associate and organize, helped insure that the union certification and the contract negotiation processes occurred in a notably open and collaborative environment.
This contract between the adjunct union and Georgetown University arrives at a time when other institutions of higher education are strongly resisting adjunct unionization. Some institutions, even those that share a connection to a religious tradition similar to Georgetown’s, have argued that their religious identity should exempt them from laws such as the National Labor Relations Act that protect the rights of adjunct faculty. Given this increasingly conflict-laden national context, it is all the more remarkable that the university and the adjunct union were able to reach their contract agreement while maintaining a high level of cooperation and respect on both sides of the bargaining table.
The Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor has undertaken this report to better explain the history and the context that led to the Georgetown agreement. This report details how this agreement came about and suggests ways in which other institutions of higher education can fulfill their potential to act as model employers—and as better anchor institutions in their communities—by recognizing the rights of their workers and committing to pay them a living wage.
On June 11, DC Jobs with Justice, the Jobs With Justice Education Fund, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, and the Kalmanovitz Initiative released the first-ever study on service sector scheduling practices in Washington, DC.
The report, “Unpredictable, Unsustainable: The Impact of Employers’ Scheduling Practices in DC,” draws on a survey conducted in 2015 with hundreds of people employed in the District, focusing on the retail and restaurant/food service industries—the broadest citywide study of scheduling practices in the service industry to date. The findings received widespread media coverage, including from the Washington City Paper and the Washington Post.
In line with previous research, it finds that “just in time” approaches to scheduling negatively impact many DC employees’ lives, often resulting in erratic and unpredictable hours for the women and men who serve our food, stock our shelves, and sweep our floors. Employees are granted too few hours on too short notice, resulting in unpredictable incomes and work schedules that make it hard to budget, arrange childcare, continue with education, or hold down a second job to try to make ends meet.
Key findings include:
Low Pay Common
The typical employee works 32 hours per week at a pay rate of $10 per hour resulting in an annual income of approximately $16,000.
More Hours Needed
Four out of five people said it was very important or somewhat important to get more hours.
Second Jobs Required
Nearly one-quarter of individuals work at least one additional job.
A typical respondent faces a 13 hour range in weekly hours per month, receiving as little as 25 hours some weeks and a high of 38 hours in other weeks.
Lack of Advance Notice
Nearly half of employees reported first learning of their work schedules less than one week in advance; one-third receive initial work schedules with less than three days’ notice; and nearly one-third of retail and restaurant/food service employees reported receiving less than 24 hours’ notice of schedule changes.
Life On Hold For On-Call Shifts
Individuals assigned on-call/call-in shifts appear to have a 50/50 chance of getting paid to work, despite holding time each week for their employers.
Half of those working in the restaurant/food service industry reported being sent home before working their full shifts.
Part-Time Work, Full-Time Availability
Sixty percent of individuals said they must always be available to fulfill any assigned work schedule—regardless of the days or hours—in order to be considered for full-time hours or the best shifts available.
The International Labor History Association announced Workers in Hard Times as the ILHA Book of the Year Award for 2014. The volume, edited by Leon Fink, Joseph McCartin, and Joan Sangster (University of Illinois Press, 2014), emerged from the Workers and World Crises conference held at the Kalmanovitz Initiative in 2011.
Since 1988 the ILHA has periodically recognized authors with a “Book of the Year” award. Past award-wining authors include Mildred Beik, Joel Beinin, Carolyn Brown, Dana Frank, James Green, Darryl Holter, Tera Hunter, Peter Linebaugh, Zachary Lockman, Elizabeth Perry, and Marcus Rediker. Books recognized contribute new and engaging research on labor history matters.
The current award-winning book consists of twelve essays in four distinct sections: Depressions and Working-Class Lives; Economic Dislocation as Political Crisis; Social-Welfare Struggles from the Liberal and the Neoliberal State; and Workers and the Shakeup of the New World Order. Particularly revealing are essays by Gaetan Heroux and Bryan Palmer on Toronto labor; David Montgomery on workers’ responses to depressions; Melanie Nolan on worker resistance in the antipodean state; and Lu Zhang on recent Chinese auto worker strikes. David Montgomery’s essay is his last written before his death; his son, Edward Montgomery, provides a piece in the volume as well, on worker reactions to industrial decline. In sum, the edited collection covers North America, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, and Asia in a valuable cross-section of worker engagements in past and contemporary socio-economic challenges.
Purchase Workers in Hard Times from the University of Illinois Press.