LaborFamily News & Views

Ellen Bravo: A True Visionary for Working Families

Cassandra Engeman

Ellen Bravo, Executive Director of Family Values @Work was recently honored with the Visionaries Award by the Ford Foundation. Ellen Bravo has galvanized the movement to bring low-wage earning women the benefits and opportunities they need to support their families. For nearly 20 years, she ran the influential organization 9 to 5, which has been at the forefront of the fight for pay equity, family leave, and fair employment laws. Most recently, she founded Family Values @ Work, a network of state coalitions that has already led successful public campaigns to adopt paid family leave policies in California, New Jersey and Washington.

Here is Ellen’s vision in her own words:

“My vision of a just world is one where taking care of yourself and your loved ones, and doing work you are engaged by, is the norm. The hard work that we do should be valued. We shouldn't be punished for being good parents, sons or daughters.

Any time there's been a social reform, we hear the same arguments: The sky will fall, it will kill jobs. And over and over, we've shown that in fact the economy grows and communities grow when we allow families to be strong.

Soon after my former organization, 9 to 5, helped pass the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act in 1988, the parents of a member had a heart attack and a hip replacement between them. They couldn't care for each other. Because of this law, she and her siblings were each able to take time off and take turns caring for their parents without jeopardizing their jobs. It was really important to the recovery of her parents, and also to the family's emotional health and financial security. I know hundreds of stories like that, many of them from people who became engaged in the movement as a result of their experiences.

I feel successful when I see movements grow and people stand up, when I watch people become aware of their own power as they join together with others. I measure success by that kind of growth, not just by what gets passed into law.”

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