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Austin’s Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance now in full effect

(BUSINESS NEWS) This ordinance, the first of its kind in Austin, has been enforced in a majority of states across the US, in a move towards eliminating social injustice for ex-convicts.

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Eliminating discrimination

In an effort to eliminate job discrimination in Austin TX, the city’s council officially voted and approved the Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance April 4th, 2016. This ordinance, the first of its kind in Austin, has been enforced in a majority of states across the US, in a move towards eliminating social injustice for ex-convicts.

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District 4 City Council Member Greg Casar, who proposed the policy last year said “It was a really long journey, but I think it really shows this new council is dedicated to thinking of local government in a more bold and progressive way than we might be used to,” adding:

“This is, at heart, an anti-discrimination, civil rights piece of legislation, but I believe it also to have great benefits for public safety and economic development.”

What does it mean for employers?

Before fair chance hiring, background checks were typically performed in the very beginning of the hiring process, as a way to separate applicants with criminal histories.

The Fair Chance hiring ordinance, though, changes the order of things, and now requires background checks to be performed towards the end of the hiring process for businesses with over 15 employees.

The ordinance, which can be read in its entirety here, requires employers to give candidates, regardless of criminal backgrounds, a fair chance at the job.

While ex-convicts may see this as a good thing, some employers and business owners throughout Austin have expressed some concern or doubt. Opposing council members, one being Jose Carrillo, say the new policy may not be simple, or cost-effective to implement by the one year deadline.

“We don’t feel that it’s good business to have the background check when you make somebody a job offer, which is toward the end of the [hiring] process, because there are costs involved,” Carrillo said.

Other foreseeable issues

Pamela Bratton, vice president of Meador Staffing Services in Austin opines that the new policy will have a negative effect on temporary staffing firms, who need to provide qualified employees in little time. If the background check is postponed until the end, the staffing firm and employer have to essentially wait to get the background check back before moving forward. City Council responded to Bratton’s concerns with an amended exception to the legislation that allows temporary staffing firms to run background checks after placing applicants in a pool of qualified candidates, but before offering them an official assignment.

Other business owners have expressed additional concerns for companies that manage or do business in multiple cities, and will have to use different hiring policies. Austin Apartment Association spokesperson Paul Cauduro said while the property management industry recommends running background checks later on anyway, a mandate to hold checks until the end could cause problems.

“Finding a good maintenance technician is very difficult, so [property managers] don’t want to lose out,” Cauduro said. “They want to find out up front someone is disqualified so they can keep their options open.”

Another opposing council member, Ellen Troxclair, expressed an entirely different concern than just financial and time burdens. She feels the ordinance gives the government too much power over what used to be a voluntary process. “The size of the bigger businesses already allows them to enforce a policy like this, but it’s not the government’s job to mandate when a private business owner should be permitted to do a background check,” she said.

It is important to note, this does not mean employers are forced to choose a candidate regardless of their criminal history. After receiving the results from the background check, employers have complete autonomy to deny the candidate.

But don’t fret

Flux Resources, a recruitment firm based in Austin, TX, already employs a fair chance hiring process and hopes to encourage other businesses about the new citywide policy. Bobby Dettmer, Flux Vice President, said “I just feel like if people start doing it the way we’re doing it, I think they’ll notice it takes them a lot less time to find the right person,” he said. “That’s what I’m hoping.”

At Flux, the background check, which includes a drug screening, costs a total of around $87.

Dettmer says they save additional money by only running background checks on candidates who have been offered a position by a client, instead of every single person who interviews.

According to him, he has only had to restart the hiring process because of a background check a handful of times.

This new ordinance also allows businesses in Austin to stand on the forefront and teach other areas of a policy that may soon be nationwide. States like Washington, Minnesota, Oregon and California are already utilizing some form of fair chance hiring.

Implementation

Austin businesses with over 15 employees, which amounts to just over 7,000 companies, have one year to adopt the fair chance hiring policy. After that point, employers found in violation will receive a warning for a first-time offense and a fine of up to $500 for subsequent offenses.

Businesses will receive written notification of the new law, but the city’s manager will also implement a public education campaign to inform employers and residents of the requirements. City staff estimates the first-year cost of education and implementation would be $345,000.

#FairChance

Lauren Flanigan is a Staff Writer at The American Genius, hailing from the windy hills of Cincinnati, with a degree in Marketing from the University of Cincinnati. She has escaped the hills, and currently resides in Atlanta, where you can almost always find her camping at a Starbucks strategizing on how to take over the world.

Business News

Office Depot still open to buyers – just not you, Staples

(BUSINESS NEWS) This isn’t the first time the office giants have tried to combine, but Office Depot has some particular conditions if Staples wants to acquire them.

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Balding man in glasses at a whiteboard, using supplies from Office Depot.

In Staples’ third attempt to take over Office Depot, its acquisition offer was rejected by the ODP Corporation, Office Depot’s parent company. On January 11, Staples sent a letter to Office Depot’s board of directors offering to buy “100% of the issued and outstanding common stock” from its office-supply rival. At $40 per share, the deal to acquire Office Depot is over $2 billion.

“Staples believes that its all-cash transaction is a compelling value proposition for ODP’s stockholders that offers a high degree of certainty and is superior to the intrinsic, standalone value of ODP,” wrote Stefan Kaluzny, on behalf of the Board of Directors of USR Parent, Inc (Staples).

In response to Staples’ offer, the ODP corporation issued its own letter. “The Board has unanimously concluded that there is a more compelling path forward to create value for ODP and its shareholders than the potential transaction described in your proposal,” wrote ODP Chairman Joseph Vassalluzzo.

Although Office Depot refused Staples’ proposal, the company said it’s willing to make other alternative deals. “We are open to combining our retail and consumer-facing e-commerce operations with Staples under the right set of circumstances and on mutually acceptable terms,” wrote Vassalluzzo.

In the letter, Office Depot said it is willing to consider a joint venture where both companies “would equally share the risks and benefits.” The company would also consider a partial-sale of its retail and consumer-facing e-commerce operations.

If Staples is willing to come to either of those agreements, they will still require regulatory approval. But, Office Depot says their options offer a less “regulatory risk” by pursuing a retail-only transaction. And, will “help maintain competitiveness against nontraditional retailers and optimize ongoing choices for consumers.”

In 1997 and 2016, the Federal Trade Commission blocked the two companies from merging. Who’s to say it won’t happen again, even with the changes Office Depot is telling Staples to make in its offer.

“What we do not plan to do, however, is engage in a transaction that, as history has shown, would likely result in a prolonged and expensive regulatory review process with no guarantee of success, without a commitment that Staples is willing to bear this risk through a customary “hell or high water” provision,” wrote Vassaluzzo.

Until Staples is willing to come to an agreement with Office Depot that doesn’t include a full takeover, ODP’s answer is a firm “no”.

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Business News

Big retailers are opting for refunds instead of returns

(BUSINESS NEWS) Due to increased shipping costs, big companies like Amazon and Walmart are opting to give out a refund rather than accepting small items returned.

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Package delivery people holding deliveries. Refund instead of returns are common now.

The holidays are over, and now some people are ready to return an item that didn’t quite work out or wasn’t on their Christmas list. Whatever the reason, some retailers are giving customers a refund and letting them keep the product, too.

When Vancouver, Washington resident, Lorie Anderson, tried returning makeup from Target and batteries from Walmart she had purchased online, the retailers told her she could keep or donate the products. “They were inexpensive, and it wouldn’t make much financial sense to return them by mail,” said Ms. Anderson, 38. “It’s a hassle to pack up the box and drop it at the post office or UPS. This was one less thing I had to worry about.”

Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc., and other companies are changing the way they handle returns this year, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to weigh the costs of processing physical returns versus just issuing a refund and having customers keep the item.

For instance, if it costs more to ship an inexpensive or larger item than it is to refund the purchase price, companies are giving customers a refund and telling them to keep the products also. Due to an increase in online shopping, it makes sense for companies to change how they manage returns.

Locus Robotics chief executive Rick Faulk told the Journal that the biggest expense when it comes to processing returns is shipping costs. “Returning to a store is significantly cheaper because the retailer can save the freight, which can run 15% to 20% of the cost,” Faulk said.

But, returning products to physical stores isn’t something a lot of people are wanting to do. According to the return processing firm Narvar, online returns increased by 70% in 2020. With people still hunkered down because of the pandemic, changing how to handle returns is a good thing for companies to consider to reduce shipping expenses.

While it might be nice to keep the makeup or batteries for free, don’t expect to return that new PS5 and get to keep it for free, too. According to WSJ, a Walmart spokesperson said the company lets someone keep a refunded item only if the company doesn’t plan on reselling it. And, besides taking the economic costs into consideration, the companies look at the customer’s purchase history as well.

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Business News

Google workers have formed company’s first labor union

(BUSINESS NEWS) A number of Google employees have agreed to commit 1% of their salary to labor union dues to support employee activism and fight workplace discrimination.

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Google complex with human sized chessboard, where a labor union has been formed.

On Monday morning, Google workers announced that they have formed a union with the support of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the largest communications and media labor union in the U.S.

The new union, Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) was organized in secret for about a year and formed to support employee activism, and fight discrimination and unfairness in the workplace.

“From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade,” stated Program Manager Nicki Anselmo in a press release.

AWU is the first union in the company’s history, and it is open to all employees and contractors at any Alphabet company in the United States and Canada. The cost of membership is 1% of an employee’s total compensation, and the money collected will be used to fund the union organization.

In a response to the announcement, Google’s Director of People Operations, Kara Silverstein, said, “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”

Unlike other labor unions, the AWU is considered a “Minority Union”. This means it doesn’t need formal recognition from the National Labor Relations Board. However, it also means Alphabet can’t be forced to meet the union’s demands until a majority of employees support it.

So far, the number of members in the union represents a very small portion of Google’s workforce, but it’s growing every day. When the news of the union was first announced on Monday, roughly 230 employees made up the union. Less than 24 hours later, there were 400 employees in the union, and now that number jumped to over 500 employees.

Unions among Silicon Valley’s tech giants are rare, but labor activism is slowly picking up speed, especially with more workers speaking out and organizing.

“The Alphabet Workers Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, from the kinds of contracts Google accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues. All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members,” stated the AWU in a press release.

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