Uber Technologies Inc. says it’s trying to help people convicted of non-violent felonies in California get jobs as drivers.
The company said Wednesday it’s steering prospective drivers with felony convictions to organizations that can help get their criminal offenses downgraded to misdemeanors through a process created by a voter-approved initiative.
The move comes while Uber fights a lawsuit by elected district attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles who claim the company’s criminal background checks for drivers failed to prevent it from hiring registered sex offenders, identity thieves, burglars, a kidnapper and a convicted murderer.
The world’s most valuable startup says it’s easing its qualifications for drivers from a “social justice angle” and not seeking to expand its workforce. The company said the change will only affect a small number of people.
“To do our part, we can make sure people have a fair chance to earn a living with Uber,” Uber Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan said in an e-mailed statement. “Moreover, as a technology platform, we can focus on safety before, during and after each ride in ways that are more fair and effective than relying on criminal records alone.’
Uber said it’s relying on a California measure enacted in 2014 to undertake the initiative. Proposition 47 reduced certain non-violent felonies such as drug offenses to misdemeanors. As many as 10,000 inmates qualified for re-sentencing, and as many as 40,000 felonies would be downgraded to misdemeanors each year.
Uber declined to comment on whether it conferred with prosecutors about its decision to hire criminals helped by Proposition 47.
Max Szabo, spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, didn’t immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment on Uber’s policy.
The National Employment Law Project said Uber’s new policy does nothing to guarantee that prospective drivers will be protected against unfair criminal background checks. It said Uber is fighting a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco claiming the company failed to get authorization from drivers for background checks, in violation of fair credit-reporting laws.
“Uber drivers with a criminal record will continue to suffer unfair treatment, and other taxi service companies that do comply with the law will be disadvantaged as well, if Uber persists in trying to dodge basic background check protections guaranteed to workers by federal, state, and local laws,’ Christine Owens, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement.
–With assistance from James Nash.