When it comes to securing strong contracts, winning legislative battles and defeating anti-union opponents, it’s important to have strong, empowered leaders.

CSEA’s 111th Annual Delegates Meeting strongly focused on developing members’ skills and knowledge to allow them to become better union leaders.

CSEA President Mary E. Sullivan stressed the importance of not only gaining knowledge but sharing those lessons with others.

“Please share what you learn with those you represent,” Sullivan said, in her address to members during the meeting. “We can offer you all the tools and resources we have, but if what you learn doesn’t get passed along to the rest of the membership, we are failing in our responsibility to be the best representatives we can be.”

Developing strong leaders

Many of the meeting’s speakers praised CSEA for its efforts to develop new leaders and grow the skills of veteran ones.


“Developing strong leaders is the only way we can educate and activate folks on a mass scale,” AFSCME International President Lee Saunders said. “It’s the only way we can organize non-union public service workers and bring them into our family. It’s the only we can neutralize our enemies and beat back propaganda campaigns. It is the only way we can do the internal organizing and one-on-one conversations that are the source of our power.”

Saunders also noted that leadership is also key to winning major legislative fights, as well as organizing members.

“There is perhaps no aspect of our work where leadership development matters more than organizing,” Saunders said. “This is the key to our growth and future strength and it depends on active engagement from all members.”

A. Philip Randolph Institute President Clayola Brown touted CSEA for developing leaders amid the challenges of the pandemic.

State Employees Retirement System Local President and Statewide
Education Committee member Danielle Kilmer asks A. Philip Randolph
Institute President Clayola Brown a question.

“[The union] is meeting at a time when each of us feels powerless,” Brown said “It’s been almost two years that we have been on shutdown with the pandemic, yet here you are energizing other folks to be leaders, speaking truth to power, representing members and speaking to a broader need.”

Brown noted that CSEA is seen as a model for strong union leadership nationally.

“A lot of [union members]across the country depend on the leaders of CSEA to develop groups [nationally],” she said. “You are an amazing group and you have a platform that is willing to help, but we learn from you.”

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, who was recently elected as the federation’s first woman president after the death of former President Richard Trumka, also noted CSEA’s strong leadership amid the challenges that have faced the labor movement in recent years.

“I believe we can accomplish anything when we work together,” Shuler said. “You showed that in the lead-up to the Janus Supreme Court case and in the days after [the decision]. You are CSEA strong, and your example will help guide and inspire us as I am taking on this challenge of moving the AFL-CIO forward.”

— Janice Gavin


About Author

Janice Gavin

Janice Gavin is the editor of The Work Force and CSEA’s special interest publications. A graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh and Syracuse University, Gavin has been a journalist and public relations professional for more than 20 years. She worked as a newspaper reporter and bureau chief at the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, where she was honored with Associated Press and New York Newspaper Publishers Association awards. Gavin joined CSEA as a communications specialist in the union's Southern Region in 2000. In 2004, she became The Work Force's associate editor, a position she held until becoming the publication's editor in 2017. Growing up in a union household, she is dedicated to improving workers’ lives through telling their stories.

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