News About a Year-end Leadership Transition


I write on behalf of the National Employment Law Project (NELP) board of directors to share the news that, after nearly 12 years of extremely successful leadership, Chris Owens will be stepping down from her role as NELP’s executive director later this year. The search for NELP’s next leader, to be conducted by Atlanta-based non-profit executive recruitment firm Boardwalk Consulting, will formally launch later this month.

Chris’s decision to leave NELP is bittersweet for NELP’s board of directors and staff, as well as for her many partners and allies in the fight for workplace dignity, justice, and equity for all. Like Chris, we are impressed by the emerging leaders and movements at the forefront of innovative advocacy and organizing to promote economic justice and workers’ rights, and we are excited about opportunities for new beginnings at NELP. At the same time, we will greatly miss Chris’s strong, steady, and inspirational leadership. She has played a guiding role in transforming NELP into the distinguished national workers’ rights and economic justice organization it is today.

“Under Chris’s leadership, NELP has more than doubled in size and tripled its budget.”

Chris leaves behind a legacy and strong foundation for NELP and its next executive director to build on. Over the past decade, NELP has more than doubled in size, growing from a staff of 20 in 2008 to 44 today; strong and effective fundraising has more than tripled its budget; and it maintains three thriving offices in New York, Washington, and Berkeley (with a few staff working remotely).

NELP’s footprint and impact have grown as well. In recent years, NELP’s thought leadership, skilled policy and legal advocacy, aggressive public education and communications outreach, and support for organizing and collective action by workers has improved access to work and its rewards for tens of millions of workers and job-seekers, particularly low-wage earners, people of color, immigrants, and women. Under Chris’s leadership over the past decade, NELP’s contributions helped to win higher minimum wages for more than 22 million low-wage workers, secure stronger unemployment insurance assistance for nearly 25 million jobless workers, and extend fair-chance hiring protections to roughly 48 million people with records.

More recently, NELP’s aggressive advocacy to reinforce workplace health and safety protections in high-risk low-wage industries and extend baseline labor rights to temp workers has benefited more than one million workers. As former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez summed it up for NELP’s recent 50th anniversary celebration: “NELP is a powerhouse private attorney general, and they take that role seriously…. A lot of workers are better off because of NELP, yet there’s still so much unfinished business. After 50 years, NELP’s thought leadership and work has never been more important.”

“Chris has led NELP through an internal restructuring process to ensure NELP lives the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion that it espouses for our nation and its employers.”

In addition to overseeing a period of greatly expanded presence and impact for NELP, over the past two years, Chris has led NELP in an internal exploration, reorganization, and restructuring process designed to ensure NELP lives the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion it espouses for our nation and its employers. This process has resulted in a reorganization of how NELP does its work, while helping to drive a stronger alignment and synergy between NELP’s internal operations and its external advocacy. NELP has also revamped its management and leadership structures and teams, with people of color now holding a majority of management and programmatic leadership roles, as well as key senior-level organization-wide operations positions. A majority of NELP’s staff today are people of color, and nearly half are immigrants or the children of immigrants.

“We’re grateful for the wisdom and leadership Chris has brought to the fight for economic justice throughout her career.”

All of us are grateful for the wisdom, skills, energy, insights, and commitment Chris has brought to the fight for economic justice throughout her career, and especially for how she deployed her talents and tenacity during her years at the helm of NELP. Chris is always the first to say that everything NELP has done and achieved reflects, first and foremost, on the amazing team she leads. But, leadership matters too, and all of us directly associated with NELP recognize that Chris’s leadership was an essential ingredient in enabling NELP to become the organization it is today—one that Chris says she “always knew it would be.”

In solidarity,

Jared Bernstein
NELP Board Chair

NELP will post additional information about the executive director search process on its website ( as it becomes available. Crystal Stephens, the Boardwalk Consulting senior director who will lead the search, is available at

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