Our Staff

Derecka Mehrens, Executive Director

Derecka Mehrens, Executive Director at Working Partnerships USA, brings fifteen years of community organizing, civic engagement, and public policy experience working in communities of color and with low- and moderate-income families.

Under Derecka's leadership, Working Partnerships USA co-founded Silicon Valley Rising, a coordinated regional campaign to inspire a tech-driven economy where all workers, their families and communities thrive. The unprecedented labor-faith-community alliance is working to build a new economic model that rebuilds the middle class, to raise wages and workplace standards for all workers in this valley, and to address a regional housing crisis that is pushing families and children to live in garages, cars, or near creek beds in order to survive. Silicon Valley Rising members have moved Apple, Google, and a half dozen other companies to increase standards and support contract worker organizing and policy campaigns to increase funding for affordable housing and protections for renters are moving across the Valley.

Derecka also led Working Partnerships USA to launch a strategic plan for 2015-2018 including: improving the wages, benefits, and working conditions of 100,000 low-wage workers through industry and sector-based policy and organizing campaigns; developing cutting-edge health prevention programs aimed at eliminating growing health disparities based on race and income; and advancing progressive tax and fiscal policies through engaging our base of 60,000 infrequent voters in a new model of community-driven governance that connects mass-based civic engagement, deep grassroots organizing, and values-based leadership.

As Working Partnerships USA's organizing director from 2008 to 2013, she was instrumental in developing organizing and campaign strategies to win policies improving the lives of workers and their families, including the 2012 minimum wage increase in the City of San Jose. She led the organization's non-partisan civic engagement programs building an organized base of more than 40,000 low-income communities of color in Silicon Valley, registering more than 14,000 voters and working to increase civic participation rates of voters of color and low-income voters in Santa Clara County.

Mehrens is the daughter of a union construction worker and a union community college teacher and is married with two young children. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a bachelor's degree in Sociology, History and International Studies.

Louise Auerhahn, Director of Economic and Workforce Policy

Louise Auerhahn is Director of Economic and Workforce Policy at Working Partnerships USA. Her current focus is on the impacts of Silicon Valley's changing economy on working families and the middle class, including efforts to create quality, sustainable jobs and place working people, woman and communities of color at the center of the emerging green economy. She is lead author of the Life in the Valley Economy reports, the leading source for economic indicators affecting the "invisible majority" of middle-class and low-income residents in Silicon Valley. At the regional level, she is co-founder of the Bay Area Quality Jobs Network, a co-author of the Economic Prosperity Strategy for the Bay Area, and coordinates the Construction Careers Initiative. She also serves on the Board of Directors of work2future and the Collins Foundation, and is a past Board member and vice president of the Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN). She holds a B.S. in Earth Systems from Stanford University.

Jeff Barrera, Data and Communications Specialist

Jeff combines policy research and data analysis with digital tools to explain complex civic issues and support organizing programs. He began at Working Partnerships as a summer intern in 2014, and joined the staff full time in September 2016. Jeff holds a BA in Urban Studies from Stanford University, where he graduated with departmental honors and university distinction. His honors thesis examined strategies to engage disadvantaged communities and drive public policy change. Jeff then earned a Master’s from the Stanford Graduate Journalism program, with a focus on data science and computational storytelling. As a journalism student, he covered transportation and land-use issues in Silicon Valley, with stories picked up by SFGate and KQED. Jeff has worked with a variety of political campaigns and nonprofits, including the Center on Policy Initiatives in San Diego and the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC. Most recently, he led digital communications for the successful Yes on Measure E campaign, a first-in-the-nation ballot initiative to help part-time workers get access to more hours. When not behind a screen, Jeff can usually be found practicing martial arts — he has a black belt in Aikido and a blue sash in Inayan Eskrima.

Jeffrey Buchanan, Director of Public Policy

Jeffrey joined Working Partnerships USA in December 2016. He leads the work of the Policy and Research team to develop policy campaigns, research and government relations strategies to build a just and inclusive regional economy. Previously he worked with the global antipoverty nonprofit Oxfam America leading policy efforts building alliances with community, labor and business allies to engage the US Congress and Administration on domestic issues including challenges facing the working poor, income inequality, and disaster resiliency and recovery. In the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill, he led the creation of federal policy integrating the needs of local workers and socially vulnerable communities for jobs and training into over $17 billion in recovery funding and developed language for the first local hiring policies in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi. He has written numerous influential policy and research reports on issues of the minimum wage, inequality, workforce development, environmental restoration and resiliency, working with the Center for American Progress, the Economic Policy Institute, the International Economic Development Council, the Nature Conservancy and other organizations. He has served on advisory committees to the Washington Center on Equitable Growth, the TOPOS Partnership, the Institute for Southern Studies, World Delta Dialogues and America’s WETLAND Foundation. He also previously worked as the communications officer and Gulf Coast program lead for the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

Bob Brownstein, Strategic Advisor

Bob joined Working Partnerships USA in February 1999. He currently works on health policy issues and is the designer of our signature health care achievement -- the Children's Health Initiative -- which made Santa Clara County the first of the nation's more than 3,000 counties to ensure health coverage to virtually every child. Has directed research culminating in strategic issue briefs that provide timely analysis of problems and present a range of possible and serious solutions. With his support, many of these policies have been adopted and enacted by the South Bay Labor Council, the San Jose City Council, the County Board of Supervisors, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District. Previously, Bob served as the Budget and Policy Director of the City of San Jose for eight years under Mayor Susan Hammer. He was instrumental in developing the Living Wage ordinance, Greenline policies, and crafting the annual city budget. He previously served as the Chief of Staff to Santa Clara County Supervisor Suzanne Wilson. He has an undergraduate degree from Princeton, a Masters in Political Science from Stanford, and a Masters in Environmental Studies from San Jose State University.

Maria Noel Fernandez, Deputy Director

Maria joined Working Partnerships in 2013 and leads our Silicon Valley Rising campaign as well as our community organizing and civic engagement model. Previously, she worked with the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council on successful local issue campaigns to raise the minimum wage, pass a general tax for county safety net services, and more. She was district director for the previous California State Speaker Pro Tempore and joined that office after spending three years as a community organizer through Sacred Heart Community Service's policy and organizing department where she led successful campaigns to protect senior services, defend immigrant rights and increase resources for the most underserved areas of San Jose. She also spent three years teaching English and Social Studies in Bogota, Colombia after having spent several years working for then City of San Jose Vice Mayor, Cindy Chavez. Maria Noel is also a board member of Californians for Justice and the National Partnership for Working Families.

Janice Ferris, Director of Finance and Administration

Janice was with KTEH, San Jose’s public television station, for 29 years in finance/accounting, human resources, payroll and facilities management. During her tenure at the station she was responsible for managing multiple grants relating to television productions ranging up to $2.5 million and accounting for $10 million in municipal bonds. She was instrumental in managing key financial aspects of the 2006 merger of KTEH and KQED (San Francisco's public broadcaster) to form Northern California Public Broadcasting and managing the final audit of the KTEH Foundation. Ferris was educated at Evergreen Valley College and San Jose City College.

Betsy Hammer Carr, Community Builders Program and Operations Associate

A lifetime San Jose resident, Betsy has worked as an ally of Working Partnerships USA for almost two decades and joined the staff in the summer of 2015. She works on operations and executive assistance and leads our Community Builders Program, directly supporting union members facing personal obstacles to success and coordinating the annual Holiday Party that serves thousands of South Bay children and families. Betsy brings over fifteen years of nonprofit experience with her, having worked as a government grant writer, program director and operations manager at organizations including Community Technology Alliance in San Jose and Green For All in Oakland. She is guided by her belief in the value of community organizing, in building electoral power and in access to quality education. Betsy's favorite sport is precinct walking.

Aboubacar “Asn” Ndiaye, Research & Policy Associate

Aboubacar “Asn” Ndiaye joined Working Partnerships in April 2017 as a Research and Policy Associate, working on housing, workforce, and transportation equity issues. Prior to joining Working Partnerships, he worked as Strategic Researcher for SEIU Local 1, responsible for planning and developing organizing campaigns for building services workers in the Midwest, and as an Employment Specialist for Goodwill Industries of Houston, where he assisted individuals with barriers to employment find gainful and sustainable work. He has also worked or volunteered in a variety of roles on electoral campaigns in Texas, Michigan, and Illinois. He is a proud immigrant and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government. His interests include making cities more equitable, labor history, and traveling.

Aleli Samson, Development Associate

Aleli focuses on fundraising to ensure that Working Partnerships meets annual revenue goals and develops a strong financial base for the future. Upholding a commitment to egalitarian values as a feminist immigrant of color, she has advanced workplace fairness throughout her career. She has served the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Voice Western Australia, and the law firm of Philipps, Richard & Rind P.A. – among other organizations – where she organized, represented, and negotiated contracts for a diverse array of union and non-union public and private sector workers employed by airlines, federal agencies, hospitals, restaurants, schools, and waste collection companies. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, various forms of dance, and advocacy for the wellbeing of animals and the environment.

Jessica Vollmer, Associate Director of Organizing

Jessica joined Working Partnerships USA in 2014 as a project research associate and has since worked on civic engagement campaigns and fundraising, before becoming the Associate Director of Organizing in 2018. Previously, she worked as a Field Organizer for the Service Employees International Union in the healthcare industry, successfully organizing nurses across the country, and as a Field Organizer for Colorado WINS (AFSCME/AFT/SEIU Local 1876), where she developed and executed successful organizing campaigns in the Colorado Health and Human Services and Transportation Departments. She has served as president of her union chapter, steward, labor-management committee representative, and bargaining team chair. She holds a B.A. in Journalism from Indiana University, where she also served as president of the Indiana Public Interest Research Group. She was awarded the Rosa Parks Scholarship for Union Activism from the State University of New York Labor & Employment Policy Master's program for her work to advance workers' rights.