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Apple’s Ban on Felons is the Construction Industry Norm, Not an Exception

8067250367_c2cf8edb65_bThere’s a story going around this morning that Apple, for petty reasons of their own, is not allowing convicted felons to work on its new headquarters. The SF Chronicle broke the news on Saturday, but I don’t think they got all of their facts straight:

Apple is known for being secretive and picky about who works on its popular devices, but now, union officials say, that thinking also applies to the construction workers pouring the concrete for the tech giant’s new offices.

Several construction workers who were hired to build the exterior of Apple’s new campus in Cupertino were ordered to leave the site in January due to prior felony convictions, several union officials and workers told The Chronicle. The ban is unusual for construction work, a field in which employers typically do not perform criminal background checks.

For work on the Apple site, anyone with a felony conviction or facing felony charges “does not meet owner standards,” according to documents from construction companies acquired by The Chronicle.

This being an Apple story (and thus prima facie clickbait), I immediately doubted the original report and sought confirmation.

I’m glad I double checked, because my construction industry contact said that this was the norm.

My source is a senior construction project manager with 30 years experience who has worked on both corporate and government projects (many of which cost more than Apple’s new HQ). They told me over the phone that this was not unusual and should be expected that a construction project with security and trade secret issues like Apple’s HQ would ban convicted felons. In fact, my source had never worked on a project which did not require a background check.

Some of those construction projects did employ convicted felons, yes, but it was uncommon and required jumping through hoops. The felons were not allowed to be on the construction site unsupervised, and were often blocked from working in certain areas entirely.

Edit: I was called out on Twitter for not covering the detail concerning those charged but not convicted of felonies. My source told me that some construction sites also banned anyone who was being prosecuted for a felony.

My source asked to remain anonymous, but they provided enough anecdotal detail to convince me that the original story in the Chronicle is wrong.

The article bashes Apple for following an SOP in the construction industry. If you want to bash the industry for this practice, be my guest. But to single out Apple for following a common practice, like Pando Daily and other blogs have done, is simply wrong.

image by NikBoiv

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Rebecca Allen April 6, 2015 um 7:39 pm

While I am in no way questioning your assertion that this is relatively normal on large construction projects, I would like to point out that criminal exclusions are an area of enforcement for EEOC:

While Apple has decreased its legal exposure by sticking to felonies and convictions (rather than any criminal record, such as arrest, and misdemeanors), they are still open to enforcement action if EEOC determines their policy is not justified and has disparate racial impact.

I don’t actually _care_ one way or the other; I just thought I would point out that this may be part of what people are reacting to, and may also be part of why your source is unwilling to be named.

Nate Hoffelder April 6, 2015 um 7:49 pm

I’ll take it back to my source and ask.

Nate Hoffelder April 6, 2015 um 9:08 pm

I was told that the EEOC is a point of concern, yes. Here’s a point I flubbed in my post and had to go fix:

It’s not the size of the project that matters, but the need for security or to protect proprietary info. This policy is used not on all huge projects but only on sensitive ones. In the case of Apple, they have trade secrets to safeguard.

Does that make more sense?

Rebecca Allen April 7, 2015 um 12:32 pm

I’m having trouble with the idea that trade secrets could justify a blanket no-felons policy during construction. But I could easily imagine that the details are way more complex than anyone has presented, and this is not an area of expertise for me. Thanks for circling back to your source and asking! I always wonder, when I see people online getting excited about enforcement focus area, whether it is all just a bunch of conspiracy theory fear mongering, or if actual decision makers in the actual field are really paying attention. Nice to get some confirmation that the actual participants are paying attention.

jjj April 7, 2015 um 4:07 pm

It’s absolutely fair to bash Apple (or anyone else) if they are guilty . Just because others are doing it, it doesn’t absolve them of guilt.
Others are doing has never been a valid excuse.

Nate Hoffelder April 7, 2015 um 4:32 pm

Maybe for you, but it is a FAIL for a journalist to bash Apple and leave out certain details like industry SOP. Context is important.

Had this article gotten its facts right on the rest of the industry, I would have fewer problems with it. Instead it claimed Apple’s policy was unique, and that’s just bullshit.

jjj April 7, 2015 um 5:09 pm

Again it’s not relevant if others are doing it and the article doesn’t claim that when others do it, it’s not wrong. You can argue that the article could provide more context but that doesn’t change much.
Then you keep claiming that it’s the norm but you don’t have proof , just a source not stats from a reliable source. And even if it was the norm and was legal it’s doesn’t make it right nor does it give Apple the right to hide behind others.
Anyway, the real problem with your claim is that you haven’t checked what the law is in Cali.
Here from wiki – " California law provides that a criminal record can affect one’s application for a professional license only if "the crime or act is substantially related to the qualifications, functions and duties of the business or profession for which the application is made."
if you read the original article with that in mind you might see it in a different light.

Nate Hoffelder April 7, 2015 um 5:45 pm

To be clear, we’re now discussing how the story was reported, not the acceptability of Apple’s actions, so your statement that "it’s doesn’t make it right nor does it give Apple the right to hide behind others" is not relevant.

In the context of how the story was reported, yes, industry practices are important. The offer the correct context, and misreporting industry SOP lead that journalist to describe Apple’s policy as unique.

In any case, she did get details wrong.

jjj April 7, 2015 um 6:17 pm

You might be trying to pivot but i was discussing the fact that it is fair to bash Apple for it since you claimed that it is not. It is fair to bash any and all that are doing it.
And i will restate that it doesn’t matter if breaking the law is the norm and that you can’t claim that it is the norm without a lot more proof. The pure fact that a SF union with 3k members is seeing this as a problem would suggest that you are flat out wrong in your claims. Anecdotal evidence from some random guy is not even close to reliable info. So how about you provide actual proof that your claim is in any way even remotely accurate.

jjj April 7, 2015 um 6:26 pm

Would you defend Apple like this if it was about equal pay for women? That is a SOP and not fully illegal and that would not be relevant at all.

Nate Hoffelder April 7, 2015 um 6:35 pm

Again, I’m not defending Apple. I’m calling BS on the report that Apple’s policy was "unusual".

Had someone made a similar untrue report about Apple’s employment practices, I would raise similar objections.

jjj April 7, 2015 um 5:46 pm

Not sure how accurate but here a list of felonies.
(1) Drug abuse violations 1,841,182
(2) Driving while Intoxicated 1,427,494 (aka Felony DUI)
(3) Property crime 1,610,088 (includes burglary, larceny, theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.)
(4) Larceny-theft 1,172,762
(5) Assault 1,305,693
(6) Disorderly conduct 709,105
(7) Liquor laws 633,654
(8) Violent crime 597,447 (including murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault.
(9) Drunkenness 589,402
(10) Aggravated assault 433,945
(11) Burglary 303,853
(12) Vandalism 291,575
(13) Fraud 252,873
(14) Weapons violations (carrying or possession) 188,891
(15) Curfew and loitering 143,002
(16) Robbery 126,715
(17) Offenses against family and children 122,812
(18) Stolen property (buying, receiving, possession) 122,061
(19) Motor vehicle theft 118,231
(20) Forgery and counterfeiting 103,448

Rebecca Allen April 13, 2015 um 1:51 pm

I realize that this has long gone past, and Nate was focused more on whether reporting of the issue was fair and accurate, rather than the underlying policy. However, apparently, the pressure did cause Apple to change the policy, largely for the reasons which I noted are an area of increasing EEOC enforcement focus. Also, Apple doesn’t really want to be _that company that does horrible thing x_.

I thought that might be of interest to people who noticed the original stories go by.

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