National Employment Law Project (NELP) is a New York City-based think tank which advocates for liberal labor and employment legislation. The union-backed group, formed in 1974, advocates for steep increases in the minimum wage and other restrictions on employers.
NELP partners on advocacy campaigns with a network that includes labor unions. The group is highly active in labor and employment policymaking on the local and national levels. The organization is a staunch supporter of the Service Employees International Union’s “Fight for $15” minimum wage campaign, and has received substantial financial contributions from the union.
NELP is also a financial supporter of numerous state and local progressive groups, and is a “recommended organization” in the Democracy Alliance classification. NELP has provided notable contributions to the labor-backed advocacy groups Maine People’s Resource Center, Our Oregon, Working Families Organization, Ohio Organizing Collaborative, and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.
National Employment Law Project’s most prominent effort is providing intellectual underpinning and political strategy for labor union-led efforts to raise the minimum wage. The group runs RaiseTheMinimumWage.com and helps lead organizing efforts at the local level for those who want to join in the effort to raise the minimum wage at the local, state, and federal levels.
NELP general counsel Paul Sonn told USA Today that minimum wage hikes approved by voters in four states in the 2016 General Election “will bring very badly needed pay hikes for 2.3 million workers.” Opponents contend that economic research indicates that minimum wages have substantial impacts on low-level employment. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that a 2014 proposal outlined by then-President Barack Obama and supported by NELP to set a federal minimum wage of $10.10 per hour would have led to a likely 500,000 jobs lost nationwide.
NELP has been criticized for sloppy economic methodologies in attempting to present minimum wage hikes as costless. NELP published what the Washington Post called “possibly the most un-nuanced analysis of minimum wage hikes that you’ll ever see.” A Forbes commentator noted the methodology NELP chose “proves absolutely nothing at all about the minimum wage.” The Post noted the purported study’s apparent purpose: “a useful talking point for raise-the-wage supporters.”
Other NELP research has faced criticism for methodological shortcomings. The conclusions of a report claiming substantial job growth in low-wage jobs depended on NELP setting an arbitrarily high “low wage” maximum.
Another big push by NELP is the effort to prohibit employers from inquiring about applicants’ criminal histories on job applications, called “ban the box.” The legislative efforts have faced some criticism for possibly backfiring, as research suggests that employers may use other characteristics to weed out applicants more likely to have criminal records.
Closeness with Labor
NELP is extremely close to the union movement, receiving funding from major labor unions and working hand-in-glove on labor union legislative initiatives. In recent years, NELP has received funding from the Bricklayers Union, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the United Auto Workers, United Steelworkers, the Carpenters Union, and the California Nurses Association.
NELP has worked closely with unions on labor legislation at the local level. The free-market Employment Policies Institute used open records laws to show that NELP had written a San Francisco scheduling mandate ordinance in concert with the San Francisco Bay Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
Union officials also sit on the NELP board. Amy Sugimori of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, Lynn Rhinehart of the AFL-CIO, and Naomi Walker of AFSCME all hold board positions. Other labor-aligned organizations also have representation on the organization’s board: Working America Education Fund, Family Values at Work, and Amalgamated Bank also have officials on NELP’s board.
Christine Owens has served as executive director of NELP since January 2008, having previously worked closely with the organization while serving as the director of public policy at the AFL-CIO. She ran the Workers Options Resource Center before that, helping successfully push for the 1996 federal minimum wage increase. Owens received compensation of $143,300 in 2014, according to NELP’s IRS 990 form.
Jared Bernstein is the chairman of the board of directors. He served from 2009-11 as chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and executive director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class. He joined the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities as senior fellow in May 2011.
Like many organizations with 501(c)(3) status, NELP doesn’t disclose its donors. The organization receives substantial support from labor unions and progressive foundations identifiable through other federal filings.
The AFL-CIO, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are among the unions that have reported giving to NELP, including a total of $165,000 in 2015.
The organization has received millions in support from the liberal Ford Foundation, including $2.2 million in 2014. NELP also received $1.78 million from the donor-advised fund Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund, allowing the original donor to maintain secrecy in a practice criticized by many of NELP’s fellow liberals. The Foundation to Support Open Society, Rockefeller Foundation, Public Welfare Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Joyce Foundation, and the Wyss Foundation have also contributed substantially to NELP. The Democracy Alliance, a consortium of progressive donors and foundations, lists NELP as a “recommended organization.”
NELP has also provided grants to aligned organizations. including $150,000 to the Advocacy Fund in San Francisco and $155,000 to Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. Other recipients of support from NELP include Maine People’s Resource Center, Willamette Valley Law Project, Our Oregon, Working Families Organization, Missouri Jobs with Justice, Together Colorado, Granite State Organizing Project, Massachusetts Communities Action Network, Economic Policy Institute, Center for Worker Justice, Safer Foundation, Ohio Organizing Collaborative, and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.