When I am knocking on doors, voters sometimes ask how I earned the endorsements of two of the largest labor unions in Montgomery County: SEIU Local 500 and the Montgomery County Education Association.
Here is the answer:
I got my first work permit at fourteen. I often walked a mile to work after school, up the sidewalk on Democracy Boulevard to the food court at Montgomery Mall. I remember being scared of the traffic rushing by, but wanting to save the $1 bus fare so I could buy a slice of pizza on my dinner break.
My muscles ached by the end of the night, but I powered through to make sure the floor was mopped and all the dishes cleaned before heading home at 10:30 to start my homework. I earned $4.25 an hour.
By age 16, I picked up a second job selling jewelry and accessories at a retail store for $5 an hour. I juggled my schedule to make time for schoolwork. I wanted to save money for college.
As a student at University of Wisconsin, I worked three (sometimes four) jobs at a time. My feet were constantly swollen and throbbing in pain. While many friends took prestigious unpaid internships, I worked at the school health clinic, the coffee shop, the video store, the bookstore, and as a weekend janitor in the dormitories.
You want a tough job -- try being the Sunday morning janitor in a freshman dorm. I cleaned things no one should ever see -- for $6 an hour. On summer and winter break I came back to Bethesda and worked in a telemarketing call center, which helped me polish my fundraising skills. Of course, I supplemented this income with continued work at Wildwood Starbucks and Old Georgetown Road Blockbuster. Throughout college I worked early mornings at the coffee shop, afternoons at the health clinic, and late nights at the video store. I worked every weekend and most holidays.
At 22, after eight years in the workforce, I leveraged my fundraising skills and health clinic experience into my first full-time day job. I earned $22,000 a year, with two weeks paid vacation, and even healthcare. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
I later joined the staff at a number of nonprofits, learning the ropes of fundraising, programming, volunteer management and communications. I also gained valuable experience in diverse policy areas, from domestic violence to education and social services.
It wasn’t until three years after starting my nonprofit career that I had saved enough money to take my first unpaid internship. I landed an opportunity at PBS’ To The Contrary. I was twenty-five years old.
The executives at To The Contrary were pleased to have a mature, experienced intern with diverse skills and a superior work ethic. After my internship ended, I was promised the first staff job that became available. A few months later, true to their word, I was offered a position as Associate Producer. After only two years, I was promoted to Executive Producer, responsible for managing the entire operation, including staff, crew, and consultants.
After covering a wide range of policy debates (and the 2004 Presidential elections) and producing an in-depth story on the last abortion clinic open in Mississippi, I decided to move away from journalism and into advocacy work.
I was hired as Executive Director at NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland. The organization was struggling at the time, having been through three Executive Directors in the last four years. I worked night and day to turn the organization around, supported by a tremendous Board of Directors and a hardworking staff and volunteer pool. First, I righted the financial ship. Through diligent fundraising and disciplined spending, I tripled the annual budget and doubled the staff size during my tenure. I also overhauled the research and policy arms of the organization, led a nationally recognized investigation into deceptive clinics, and directed the 2006 and 2008 electoral programs.
I then had the opportunity to join a startup national advocacy organization. During my tenure at MomsRising, the membership has grown from 150,000 to more than a million, and our staff has doubled in size. I direct two programs: Environmental Health and Fair Pay. In our Environmental Health program, I work in partnership with the Blue-Green Alliance (a labor/environment coalition) to protect workers from health hazards. As Director of the Fair Pay program, I work in partnership with labor and others to ensure equal pay for equal work and close the wage gap for women and people of color. As a virtual organization, where all of the employees work from home offices with flexible schedules, MomsRising is proud to be a leader on workplace efficiency and work-life balance issues.
For me, worker rights are not an abstract concept. I have been an employee in need of protection, working long hours for low wages with no benefits. I have been an employer struggling to make payroll and provide my staff with the salary and benefits they deserve.
As Delegate, I will bring all of these experiences with me to advocate for the needs of workers and employers, not just on Labor Day, but every day. That’s why two of our county’s largest labor unions are supporting my campaign. I am honored to have them as part of my coalition.