Rachel Notley grew up in Fairview, Alberta as the daughter of Sandy and Grant Notley, also a former NDP leader. She is the sister of Paul Notley and Stephen Notley (author and illustrator of Bob the angry flower).
After law school, Notley articled for Edmonton labour lawyer Bob Blakely, and went on to work for the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees representing members with Workers' Compensation Board cases.
In 1994, Notley moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where she worked for the Health Sciences Association of BC as their Occupational Health and Safety Officer. During her time in BC, she worked for one year as a Ministerial Assistant to the provincial Attorney General. In this role, she was part of the team that first expanded the application of BC's family relations laws to same sex couples - several years before the Government of Canada took similar initiatives.
Notley acted as a representative of the BC Labour movement in the negotiation and drafting of new workplace health and safety standards.
During her time in Vancouver, Notley was active with “Moms on the Move”, an organization that advocated for the rights of special needs children. She is also a past Board member of the Vancouver Community College.
In 2002, Notley returned to Edmonton. She worked for a short time for the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), worked at Athabasca University, acted as volunteer co-ordinator for the Friends of Medicare "Romanow Now" campaign, and finally as a Labour Relations Officer for the United Nurses of Alberta.
Rachel Notley has been active in the Alberta New Democratic Party for many years. She has been a volunteer in constituency associations, including Edmonton Strathcona, Edmonton Manning and other ridings. In her youth she was active in the NDP youth and in 1987 (along with current Nova Scotia NDP House Leader Kevin Deveaux) established the first NDP campus club at Osgoode Hall Law School.
Notley served on the Alberta NDP provincial Election Planning Committee in 1993 and again in the lead-up to the most recent election in 2004 – serving as the Chair of the Strategy Committee.
Rachel has worked as a campaign volunteer and organizer in dozens of election campaigns across the country, including working as election day organizer in two of Raj Pannu's three election victories. In 2006, Notley was a member of Linda Duncan's Election Planning Committee for the federal NDP campaign in the Edmonton—Strathcona federal electoral district.
In 2006, Notley did volunteer work with the Strathcona Community League, assisting with a drive to garner support for the installation of sidewalks in east Strathcona.