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Showing posts with label careers for felons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label careers for felons. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Trucking companies look to felons to fill thousands of driver openings

By KEVIN SMITH | kvsmith@scng.com | San Gabriel Valley Tribune


 Trucking companies look to felons to fill thousands of driver openings
John Lauria spends his working hours driving a truck loaded with cases of juice, tea and energy drinks.
It’s quite an about-face for the 49-year-old Rosemead man who spent 30 years in and out of prison for drug and burglary offenses.
Since his last release three years ago, Lauria struggled to find a solid job. But that changed in February when, seemingly against all odds, he was hired as a truck driver for Haralambos Beverage Co. in City of Industry.
“When I applied for the job I was honest with them,” Lauria said. He got the job and now earns $17 an hour.
Lauria owes his turnaround in part to a growing U.S. labor shortage. As the long-haul trucking industry scrambles to fill openings for drivers, more than 40 large operators have tapped an unlikely labor source — felons.
The American Trucking Associations says the industry needs another 51,000 drivers to keep pace with increased shipping demands from Amazon, Walmart and other mega-retailers. The demand has prompted an increasing number of trucking companies to give non-violent, ex-offenders a second look.

Steps to a new life

Making the leap from inmate to employee doesn’t happen overnight. Training, either in prison or soon after release, is a key part of the transition.
El Monte Truck Driving school in Irwindale is among those helping get felons to work. Louie Pena, who handles recruiting and placement there, said the school skips background checks as it’s well known the trucking industry is often a lifeline for people with criminal histories.
“When someone pays $4,000 to $8,000 for training … they wouldn’t put up that kind of money if they weren’t serious,” he said.  John Kearney, CEO of Advanced Training Systems, said hiring felons makes sense, as these job candidates are especially eager to find work. Kearney’s Florida-based company makes virtual simulators used to train truck drivers.
“The concern is where you draw the line in terms of their record,” he said.

Case-by-case basis

Knight Transportation, a Phoenix-based trucking company with local facilities in Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga, hires felons. But they are heavily vetted, according to Vice President T.J. Presley.
Applicants are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, he said, which includes checking their recent and past history while also looking at where they are in life now. 
“There are a lot of great people out there who just came upon bad times,” Presley said.
Knight doesn’t hire felons whose convictions were as recent as five years ago. But those who are hired make good money.
“Entry-level drivers earn somewhere in the mid-$40,000-to-$50,000 range, and seasoned drivers can earn six figures,” Presley said. “We see a lot of turnover in the trucking industry because people with good, clean driving records are in high demand.”
R&R Transportation in Greensboro, N.C., also hires felons — providing that their crimes were nonviolent.
“If someone has a criminal record because they were arrested for drugs, whether it was 25 years ago or five years ago, that doesn’t matter,” company President Karl Robinson said. “But I wouldn’t hire anyone who was convicted of murder or did sex crimes.”
Help For Felons, a website that provides support and resources for felons, lists more than 40 trucking firms that hire drivers with criminal backgrounds. They include Swift TransportationJ.B. Hunt Transport Services, Knight TransportationBarr-Nunn Transportation and Western Express, among others.
Nine of the companies hire people with convictions that are 10 years old or more while others will consider applicants whose convictions occurred as recently as five years ago. Still, others hire on a case-by-case basis.

A good time to be looking

The current climate is good for felons in search of work, according to economist Chris Thornberg, a founding partner with Beacon Economics.
“The shortage of truck drivers is just one reflection of the broader economic situation,” he said. “There are more job openings right now across the economy than there are people who want to work. So people who didn’t have that chance three, four or five years ago now have a chance.”
But they have some catching up to do. The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 4 percent in January, its lowest level in a decade, yet the jobless rate among the formerly incarcerated stood at 27 percent.
“Right now, if you have a record no one will hire you unless the company has a policy of accepting ex-offenders,” Kearney said. “There are plenty of people out there who have made mistakes in their lives but would have a tendency to go in the right direction if they had a job.”

Employment drives recidivism rates down

Landing a job also could keep felons from a return trip to prison.
More than half a million people are released from federal and state jails and prisons in the U.S. each year and about two-thirds will be rearrested within three years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice.
But a study by America Works and the Manhattan Institute shows recidivism rates dropped significantly for nonviolent offenders who found work shortly after leaving prison.
In prison-to-work programs in six cities across the country, states with overall recidivism rates of about 31 percent to 70 percent saw those rates plummet to as low as 3.3 percent for felons placed in jobs shortly after their release.

Ban the Box

California is among more than 30 states that have adopted a “ban the box” law. That prohibits private businesses with five or more workers from making pre-offer inquiries regarding a job applicant’s criminal history. Inquiries are allowed only after a conditional offer of employment is made.
Despite that law and a willingness on the part of many trucking companies to hire felons, driver shortages are still common. While R&R Transportation has 14 drivers and 13 trucks, Robinson said he’s always in the hole.
“You never have enough,” he said. “Once they get two years under their belt, other companies will hire them. You’re always going to have some attrition. But if you get the right person and they meld with the culture of the business, they will stay. It takes time to get good people.”
Lauria plans to become one of those “good” people. He hopes to gain a strong foothold in the trucking industry — and stay here.
“Getting this job is the best thing I ever did” he said. “Definitely.”


  Trucking companies look to felons to fill thousands of driver openings


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