Second Chance Hiring: ‘All I Needed Was Someone to Believe in Me’

Written by Ken Kuwamura, Manager-Talent Acquisition, Union Pacific
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Union Pacific Manager-Talent Acquisition Ken Kuwamura (inset) reports on why the Class I is involved in Second Chance Hiring.

People both outside and inside my company have asked why Union Pacific is involved in Second Chance Hiring— the practice of hiring individuals with a criminal record. The following story from one of our employees helps illustrate some of the reasons behind the program and how it can change a life:

“Four years ago, I was having trouble providing for myself and my two daughters. I was working in a beauty shop making $10 an hour. Since I didn’t have my license, I was paid as a cleaner even though I was styling hair. If I was lucky, I would get 30 hours of work a week.

“Trying to provide for three people on less than $300 a week was tough. Many times, we would not have enough money for food by the end of the week. I tried to make sure my daughters went to school every day looking like the other kids, even if they had slept in the car the night before. But times got hard, and I needed to find a better job or another job that would allow me to make more money quickly.

“So, I asked one of my co-workers’ friends about making some extra money. They had a friend who needed someone to just make deliveries. He said it was like being a UPS driver delivering packages and I could make $200 a day just making a couple deliveries.

“I knew it was drugs I would be delivering, but I needed the cash. The first week went by fast and I made $1,000 for just a couple of hours work. The second week I got greedy and asked for more deliveries because I wanted to get an apartment close to the girls’ school. Thinking back, I now know that the more risks you take, the more you can lose.

“On a Tuesday afternoon I picked up my daughters from school and had one delivery. I thought I would save time and just do it while the girls were with me. I drove to the house to deliver the package and as I got out of the car, I was pulled out by two police officers. Within seconds police surrounded my car.

“As I lay on hood of the car, I could see the other police officers taking my daughters out of the back seat and placing them in a police car. To this day I still hear them crying and screaming for me. It was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life. As I sat in a cell, I thought about that day over and over. I promised myself that if I ever got out, I would do good by my kids and that I would spend the rest of my life making up for my mistake.

“When I transferred to a state facility to finish the last two years of my sentence, I started a program that provides training in skills and prepares you to re-enter the workforce. I received certificates in customer service, basic math and OSHA training.

“After I was released, I was turned away everywhere I applied after I told the employer I had served four years. My probation officer told me about a community agency that works with employers willing to take a chance on people in my situation. They asked if I would be interested in a train crew job at Union Pacific Railroad.

“A Union Pacific employee explained the job and the work environment. I applied that evening and the next day I tested and passed. I knew it was a long shot, but I also knew this opportunity would change my life. Two days later I interviewed and the following day received a job offer. I started my train crew job four months ago, and I love it. I am so happy, and I have seen my life change. All I needed was someone to believe in me. People make mistakes when they are desperate. I am grateful to Union Pacific for believing in me.”

One in four Americans currently possess a criminal record—a sizable talent pool that is excluded from the workforce every day. As we continue to seek the most qualified talent, we believe there are opportunities in the 70 million people with a criminal record. They are skilled, motivated and diverse candidates just looking for an opportunity. By collaborating with high-quality community partners, we’re finding that Second Chance candidates are prepared, trained and supported as they join the Union Pacific Team.

Union Pacific is committed to expanding our team, focusing on diversity and inclusion and creating a work environment that supports candidates and employees with a broad range of backgrounds and experiences.

But the main reason we are recruiting in this space is to help break the cycle. We know that great careers dramatically increase the likelihood of successful reentry, and in turn improves the quality of life in all our communities.

Editor’s Commentary. This is a heartwarming and inspiring story. This UP T&E employee made a serious mistake, as all of us do at some point in our lives, paid her debt to society and took the initiative to turn her life around and make an honest living. We commend Union Pacific for offering opportunities like this and not being judgmental. We wish the employee all the best, and a long and successful career in railroading. Yet, there are people out there who choose to turn this story into a negative opportunity to vent their own frustrations, posting snarky, sarcastic and cruel comments on the Railway Age Facebook page, indirectly insulting this employee and putting down her quest to live a better life and provide for her family. Any such comments will be deleted and reported, and the commenter will be blocked. To those who choose to engage in such behavior, kindly zip your lips and internalize your poison. We understand that management/labor relations are poor in many cases, but this story has nothing—I repeat, nothing— to do with that. “Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” – William C. Vantuono

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