NELP Builds Capacity to Defend Against Attacks on Workers

With one crucial health and safety violation dismantled by Congress last week and another on its last breath; corporate lobbyists working to stifle local minimum wage raises across the country; and so-called “right to work” laws eroding worker power left and right, America’s workers are facing perhaps unprecedented danger.

At a time when the most basic workplace protections are under attack, NELP is boosting our capacity to defend working people and families and to continue to advance a pro-worker agenda—which we see as a central building block for a robust and healthy economy.

With that in mind, we are delighted to announce that former Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith joined NELP this month to help guide those efforts as senior counsel.

Ms. Smith will play a central role in developing and implementing a range of advocacy strategies, including litigation, to protect workers’ interests at the federal level and in the states. With her on our team, NELP will be able to broaden our reach to support allies working on numerous fronts on behalf of working people.

Ms. Smith will soon be joined by Raj Nayak, who served as deputy chief of staff to Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and as deputy assistant secretary for policy. As NELP’s director of research, Mr. Nayak will oversee a broad program to strengthen NELP’s existing campaigns and to develop new policy models for an evolving economy and labor market.

Ms. Smith and Mr. Nayak both played instrumental roles in some of the greatest achievements of the Obama Department of Labor, including updated regulations and interpretations and vastly improved enforcement of laws protecting workers from wage theft and overtime violations, and the advancement of key health and safety regulations. They join another DOL alum at NELP, Senior Fellow Debbie Berkowitz, who served as senior policy adviser for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and previously as OSHA chief of staff, and who now leads NELP’s growing workplace health and safety program.

The addition of these senior labor policy experts complements other recent hires who have enhanced our legal, research, communications, and development operations. We are pleased to welcome Staff Attorney Ceilidh Gao, Senior Researcher Maya Pinto, Workplace Safety and Health Policy Analyst Hooman Hedayati, Federal Advocate Rontel Batie, Communications Strategist Kim Diehl, Communications Associate Rachel Nass, Development Manager Erin Hawkins, and Database and Office Coordinator Frank Gattie to the growing NELP team.

“Now is the moment to double down in the fight for workers’ rights, to stand up, speak out, and remain firm in our convictions, values, and beliefs,” says NELP Executive Director Christine Owens.

Our new staff members will play a key role in that effort—and we are honored to have them on board.


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