CSEA Statewide Secretary Denise Berkley

ForBerkley_official_web_12 more than 46 years Denise Berkley has worked to ensure working men and women have the power of a union behind them with an effective voice to build power, provide security and ensure opportunity for working families.

Her union activism began at the Brooklyn Developmental Center (BDC) where she started working as a Mental Health Therapy Aide (MHTA) in 1979. Her ‘can-do’ attitude catapulted her to a union representative position and two years later, she ran for president of her CSEA Local and won.

Denise Berkley’s historic election to the office of Statewide Secretary for CSEA in 2008 serves as a vivid example of a union member who learned that to make a difference, you must get involved. She has since served as an integral member of the Executive Leadership Team working to keep CSEA strong, united and resilient against the anti-union attacks which have become far too common in recent years.

Berkley’s philosophy is that through advocating for equal rights, economic justice and social justice, we can build bridges to progress and lift people out of poverty. She lives her values— actively championing the rights of women, minorities and children through her work in the labor movement and community.

A longtime union activist, she remains just as committed today to the ongoing struggle for social, racial and economic justice for workers and communities, as when her activism began as a leader in the local struggle against apartheid in South Africa in her youth.

Berkley is the chair of AFSCME’s Racial, Social and Economic Justice Workgroup where she leads union members across the country in addressing racism and injustice both in the labor movement and in the larger national conversation.

A member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) for 34 years, and now as the CBTU National Women’s Chair since May 2013, Berkley has won numerous awards for her activism from various chapters of the CBTU including the prestigious Rising Star Award from the International; recognizing her leadership and commitment to equal rights.

She has also received the Labor Council for Latin America Advancement (LCLAA) Community Engagement Award; the Commitment and Contributions to the Labor Movement and Community Award from SOMOS Inc., recognition of her service in an Official Proclamation from State Comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli; the Bertram G. Harris Civil Service Award from the New York State Employees Brotherhood Committee, Inc. and Labor Leader of the Year from the NY State Association of Black & Puerto Rican Legislators.

Berkley has mentored and empowered women of color helping them improve their unions, run for leadership positions within their unions and run for political office in their communities. Berkley said this her greatest achievement of all. She said, “Leadership needs to be visionary and look 20-30 years into the future. “This is why she is active in the CSEA Next Wave movement and serves as the officer liaison to the Statewide Next Wave Advisory Committee, sharing her skills of leadership and empowerment with the next generation of CSEA leaders.

She serves as liaison to the CSEA Statewide Minority Advisory Committee where she focuses on encouraging better connection with members and strengthening our union through engagement. When possible, she also worked as a CSEA Volunteer Member Organizer alongside CSEA Organizing, and has supporting efforts like the Lifespire, QSAC and the Guild for Exceptional Children in NYC.

Berkley proudly serves as a NYS Board Member of the Labor Religion Coalition (LRC) and believes wholeheartedly in its mission; “uniting the power of labor unions, faith leaders and the growing number of committed activist and community leaders from all parts of state, who are determined to make our common vision based on our deepest values (social, racial, and economic justice) a reality in New York State for everyone.”

She is married to Richard, her husband of 44 years and she has a twin brother, Dennis, who is shop steward for the U.S. Postal Service in California. She also has a younger brother, John, and older brother, Walter.

A longtime member of St. Paul Community Baptist Church, she is a member of the Ruby Collective, was a Sapphire Co-Chair for the Jewel Ministry (Women’s Ministry) and is involved with the Queens Power Kick-Off Assembly (Metro-Industrial Area Foundation.)

When asked why she is very active in the labor movement, Berkley said, “The labor movement created a strong middle class and continues to boost our economy. Despite attacks, we are stronger than ever, and we are thriving because we fight with our activism, perseverance and grit. I believe unions are central to protecting all working families and rewarding work again. The key to our future is looking ahead, mentoring and developing leadership that can carry CSEA into the future. Building our union power and maintaining our collective strength is essential to ensuring our children and grandchildren have the same opportunities through the labor movement that we currently have and there continues to be progress in lifting people out of poverty, restoring dignity and equality.”