Posted September 10, 2020
Maurice Emsellem is leaving the National Employment Law Project (NELP) after being at the organization for the past 30 years, most recently in the role of Fair Chance Program Director. Maurice has been appointed by California’s Governor Newsom to a senior advisor position with the office of Julie Su, the Secretary of California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA). We are so thrilled for Maurice—this honor speaks to his nationally recognized leadership and expertise. Maurice’s talents will be critical for millions of California workers and their families to have greater economic security.
Maurice came to NELP in November 1990 and was from his first days a key catalyst for growing NELP back up from a small staff of 4 after the Reagan-era legal services back-up center budget slashing zeroed-out NELP’s federal funding. Maurice linked NELP to the community-based organizations and unions fighting the punitive workfare mandates of the “welfare-to-work” era, positioning NELP as the go-to expert and champion of the employment rights of welfare recipients forced to “work off” their benefits. This work led to NELP’s first grants from funders who had historically shied away from funding worker issues. Maurice also launched and led the nationwide Employment Task Force (ETF) with allies at the UAW, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia Legal Services, Greater Boston Legal Services, the Philadelphia Unemployment Project and the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee, where workers’ rights advocates from around the country gathered and collaborated on the broad range of issues facing low-wage workers and the unemployed for many years. The ETF cemented NELP as a national convener of legal services, the growing worker center movement, unions, private attorneys, government officials and academics—a role we still play today.
Over the ~30 years with NELP, Maurice held various positions. He specialized in UI policy for many years with NELP’s amazing team of UI advocates in support of many state and federal campaigns that expanded the program for women, underpaid and unemployed workers. In 2004, Maurice was a Soros Justice Fellow, which is when he developed an expertise in the employment rights of people with records and established a bond with the growing movement of organizers and advocates working to reform the criminal legal system. Then, in 2006, Maurice established NELP’s fair chance program area, which supported the “ban the box” movement that has taken hold across the country and other campaigns expanding and defending the employment rights of people with arrest and conviction records.
Maurice’s gifts for making connections and identifying key trends in the economy, including community-identified problems around racism and barriers to economic security has been a tremendous contribution to NELP, and we will miss him dearly.
The entire team at NELP would like to express our deep gratitude to Maurice, who was an active member of the NELP Staff Association, NOLSW, UAW, Local 2320 – which has ensured quality employment and benefits for our staff. Our words do not come anywhere close to capturing how meaningful Maurice’s 30-year contribution to NELP has been. We will miss him and wish him well on this next adventure!