In a petition filed Monday with the California Public Utilities Commission, The Greenlining Institute asked the CPUC to hold a proceeding before the end of 2012 to consider policies regarding background checks for workers in CPUC-funded energy efficiency programs. Greenlining expressed concern that without CPUC guidance, utility companies could unilaterally implement policies that exclude qualified, responsible workers and discriminate against Latino and African American job-seekers.

Last May, the CPUC expressed interest in addressing these issues, but has not yet acted. In the interim, at least one utility company has moved toward implementing rules that could bar anyone with certain criminal convictions from employment, including simple drug possession or DUI offenses that are completely nonviolent in nature.

“We absolutely have to make sure that employees working in customers’ homes or businesses don’t pose any safety or security risks, but a policy that’s too broad will exclude hundreds of thousands of competent, responsible workers–most of whom are likely to be Black or Latino,” said Greenlining Institute Energy and Telecommunications Policy Director Stephanie Chen. “Someone whose only crime was getting caught with a joint shouldn’t be barred for years from this growing sector of the economy.”

“Sixty-five million Americans have criminal records, and face huge barriers to employment,” said Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project. “African Americans and Latinos are far more likely to be convicted of drug offenses than whites, even though their rate of drug use is the same or lower than whites. Simple fairness, as well as the nation’s civil rights laws, demand that the utilities be far more discerning before excluding thousands of qualified workers from the hiring process.”