Denise Berkley’s historic election to the office of Statewide Secretary for CSEA serves as a vivid example of a union member who learned that to make a difference, you must get involved.
Berkley’s union activism began at the Brooklyn Developmental Center (BDC) where she started working some 35 years ago as a Mental Health Therapy Aide (MHTA).
“I didn’t know anything about the union, didn’t see any union officers and if I had a problem I would settle it myself,” Berkley said. Eventually, she realized there was more strength in numbers.
A feisty can-do attitude eventually led to a union position as a Building Representative. Two years later, she would run for president of the local and win.
“You really have to have love for the membership,” said Berkley.
The love was reciprocated by CSEA members when she took office as CSEA Statewide Secretary on March 1, 2008.
A longtime union activist, including stints on the statewide constitution and bylaws and region education committees, Berkley was also a leader in the local struggle against apartheid in South Africa and was involved in community work since her youth.
Berkley remains just as committed today to the ongoing struggle for social, racial and economic justice for workers and communities.
Indeed, Berkley would like to make sure CSEA maintains high visibility in communities through New York. “Historically, labor and the community ran parallel,” said Berkley. “Issues that affected labor also affected the community. We need to do more together around issues like child care, housing, and education. Everything is related.”
Berkley is also keen on developing union leadership. “We need that for the future of the union movement,” she said.
Berkley defined good leaders as “good listeners, who have compassion and are not are not afraid to speak up.”
Berkley is married to Richard, her husband of 32 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 Sapphire Delegate at the church.
A constant cheerleader for all things CSEA, Berkley is adamant about making sure the union gets respect and plans to work on increasing CSEA’s visibility.
“I want folks to hear ‘CSEA’ and say, ‘Yeah! That’s my union!'”