Our union is as strong as we want it to be, and AFGE is lucky to have so many activists whose passion for workers’ rights and justice have resulted in positive changes in their workplaces and local communities.
These standout AFGE members were honored at our 42nd convention. We thank them for inspiring us to dream bigger and continue to fight for what is right.
AFGE is proud to present our ward winners in 5 categories! Scroll down to read their bios.
1. Ed Klein Award (PAC)
Marlo Bryant Cunningham, president of Local 32 representing OPM employees
2. Bernice Heffner Outstanding Women's Achievement Award
Marlo Bryant Cunningham, president of Local 32 representing OPM employees
3. Special Organizing Awards
- Rafael Rivera, president of Local 2595 representing Border Patrol agents in Yuma, Ariz.
- Executive board of Local 252, a nationwide local representing Department of Education employees
4. A. Philip Randolph – Hubert H. Humphrey Award
LaRhonda Gamble, president of AFGE Local 12 representing Department of Labor employees in Washington, D.C.
5. Lifetime Achievement Award
Arthur B. Johnson, president emeritus of Local 1336 representing Social Security Administration employees in five states.
6. Retiree of the Year Award
Glenn Dixon, a retiree and member of Local 3969 representing Bureau of Prisons employees in Victorville, Cal.
Ed Klein Award and Bernice Heffner Outstanding Women's Achievement Award and Bernice Heffner Outstanding Women's Achievement Award winner
Marlo Bryant Cunningham began her federal government career at the U.S. Social Security Administration, where she immediately joined AFGE. In 2012, she transferred to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) with her AFGE membership in tote. Now 26 years later, she is still an AFGE member, women’s activist, and a fighter for human rights.
In 2013, Cunningham began working on the agency’s Hostile Work Environment Team. As a team member, she helped to negotiate telework for customer service representatives among the several program areas within OPM. It was during that time when she discovered that the representatives in Retirement Services were all GS-4. She quickly worked with management to ensure that these positions, which were all held by women, were afforded the opportunity to compete and secure higher graded positions.
In 2015, Cunningham ran for the chief steward position in her local. She was not expected to win because she was the newcomer, and the incumbent was a longstanding officer of the local. It was a difficult time for Cunningham as she was the primary caregiver for a then disabled parent, brother, and child. The agency tried to force her to choose, and it was on that principle that she ran for the position and won.
“I ran for the chief steward office because I felt there was a need for kindred representation for women, and that position had just the right amount of access to tackle those issues. No woman should ever have to choose between work and family. Work and life must have balance.”
Throughout her time as Chief Steward, Cunningham fought for equality in performance standards. That fight took her all the way to Congress.
“My fight not only won a change in my personal performance standards but also for all of the legal administrative specialists who were in my same position,” she explained. “This allowed for an increase in positive performance appraisals and made employees eligible to receive monetary awards for their performance. “
Cunningham has also settled more than 50 grievances throughout her career that have specific and significant impact on women—opportunities for details, temporary promotions, back payment for untimely career ladder promotions, financial awards in excess of $15,000 for grievances where women were shown disparate treatment in hiring and career enhancement, and a plethora of other EEO monetary settlements.
Cunningham has served on OPM's Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) Team where she worked to have the group’s charter to include equitable goals and missions as well as recently assisted in writing OPM's internal strategic plan for DEIA.
Most of us remember Cunningham when she took center stage leading the charge in preventing the OPM/GSA merger, implementing the negative CBA, the devastating Executive Orders that eliminated official time, and other changes that were being put in place by the agency under the Trump Administration. She was able to ensure that the union and the agency maintained status quo throughout the Trump era.
“I have walked the halls at Capitol Hill many times to advocate for OPM maintaining its independence from the White House. We met with the Oversight Committee and developed transition papers where some of my suggestions were adopted by the NAPA study in solidifying OPM's role in this government,” she said.
This was most important because OPM sets the standards for many of the federal agencies to follow.
“As a woman, it is not easy to gain the respect of many. However, my actions have spoken volumes for the respect I have gained,” she added.
With this, she has maintained a commitment to assisting others, including new local presidents and officers, by helping them to become acclimated to their new roles, and offer mentorships to many of her union peers.
What is nearest to Cunningham’s heart is her recent and personal accomplishment. After 30 years, she completed her college education. This accomplishment is special because she started her college journey in 1991 at Coppin State University but stopped when she was hired for her federal government job. Ms. Cunningham will walk across the virtual stage at Strayer University in May to receive her bachelor's degree with Honors in Business Administration. And just like she did in 2012, she will carry her AFGE union membership in tote.
Special Organizing Awards
Rafael Rivera is president of Local 2595 representing Border Patrol agents in Yuma, Arizona. His outstanding initiative, motivation, and one-team, one-fight mentality was paramount to the local’s success. Local 2595 is currently 91% organized and seats number one in the state of Arizona with contributing PAC members. Rivera sets an example of what an organized local is defined.
Rivera has gone above and beyond with holding membership drives, attending lunch and learns and employee orientations throughout the pandemic.
Most recently, Rivera joined District 12 and another local in the District 12’s new POWER organizing initiative, (P)roviding, (O)rganizing, (w)ith, (E)ssential (R)eprensentation. In this role, Rivera’s displayed an uncommon bearing and sound judgment while coordinating with the District 12 office to get the mission completed.
As a result of his focused, selfless actions, and representation expertise, Rivera’s contributed to the neighboring local in receiving members. His professionalism, initiative, and loyal devotion to duty reflected credit upon himself and in keeping the highest traditions of District 12 and the federation.
Local 252 Executive Board
Local 252 is a nation-wide local representing Education Department employees. Its executive board was elected in 2019, and even without official time, it was determined to build a stronger, flexible, and more communicative union to prevent the injustices the bargaining unit faced under the Trump administration.
What the Trump administration intended for evil (union busting), the local’s executive board transformed into good. Because the local was kicked out of their offices, the board began meeting on Zoom and had over a year of experience in virtual meeting spaces before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Local 252 also developed its own website (https://afge252ed.org) to communicate with members and the unit outside of the government walls. Despite the Department of Education refusing to provide the local with a bargaining unit list, the executive officers used their personal time to compile over 2,000 names and emails so they could effectively communicate their activities and wins with the bargaining unit.
As a result of their leadership, Local 252 has over doubled union membership through E-Dues and won historic improvements to working conditions, including:
- Fully remote work and telework options
- Maxiflex work schedule option for all bargaining unit employees
- Safe return to office dates
- Reimbursement for work-related at home office expenses, and
- Settlement from previous administration's union-busting offenses
A. Philip Randolph – Hubert H. Humphrey Award
LaRhonda Gamble is the president of AFGE Local 12 representing Department of Labor employees in Washington, D.C.
As president of her local, Gamble provides exceptional support and service to the local’s executive board, officers, stewards, bargaining unit employees, newly hired employees, and even managers. She efficiently discerns their individual needs and moves quickly to provide essential information, recommendations, direction, and representation.
Gamble has been a union activist since 2012 and a staunch champion of veterans. As a disabled Air Force veteran, she makes it her mission to bring attention to women vets with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She has demonstrated the finest qualities of our nation’s veterans, including leadership, teamwork, discipline, determination, adaptability, a strong work ethic, and a can-do attitude who champions our nation’s veterans by seeking to improve the recruiting, hiring, retention, and career advancement of veterans. Additionally, she has advocated bridging the cultural gap between veterans and federal employees.
Gamble has been pivotal in organizing and advocating on behalf of the local’s membership, not only encouraging them to become active in the local but to also participate in the department’s Military Veteran Alliance, infinity group, and working with AFGE Veterans.
She has ensured that veterans in the local mobilize on issues affecting them on their behalf. She has provided information and resources to the AFGE Veterans Committee to add partnerships and grow available benefits and resources to assist them during their federal career. She has worked tirelessly to help veterans and their families locate meaningful federal employment, gain access to their VA benefits, and connect them with the resources they need to transition to civilian life. These are all the things near and dear to her heart in advocating for the veterans.
Gamble is always looking for ways to bring her advocacy and passion for community service together. As a result, she has volunteered to serve as a part of the Women Veterans Rock Delegation since 2019. During the Public Policy Day 2022, LaRhonda met with Congressman Mark Takano, chair of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, and advocated for eliminating challenges, developing opportunities, and decreasing barriers facing America’s women veterans as they transition from military service back into civilian life.
Life coach who has fought to stop violence against women
LaRhonda is the go-to expert; she receives calls daily from AFGE members, youth mentees, veterans, community members, sorority members, family, and friends who call upon her experience and knowledge for information and advice.”
As a certified Spiritual and Master Life Coach, Gamble is well known for unsolicited and appreciated mentoring as she uses her skills to discern individual needs. She moves quickly and efficiently to provide essential information, recommendations, or direction to assist members, officers, and members of her community grow personally, professionally, and spiritually. All of this is at no cost because of her love of people and community.
Each day she strives to impact her community positively and puts forth the efforts to accomplish that goal. As a Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated member, Ms. Gamble applied for and became a member of the International Domestic Violence Program Initiative Policy Team (Z-Team). The Z-Team members volunteer their skills and expertise to advocate and take the lead in contacting and lobbying their elected officials in support of legislative priorities surrounding Domestic Violence.
Over the past few years, LaRhonda worked diligently with the community organizations assisting them in writing letters and meeting with local, state, and congressional leaders in support of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
The VAWA Reauthorization Act of 2022, S.3623, was just recently passed. Ms. Gamble took a significant leap of faith during the final push of getting this legislation through. She reached out to the National Vice President of Women and Fair Practices Jeremy Lannan and AFGE National President Everett Kelley, asking for AFGE’s help with making phone calls and writing letters to elected leaders around the nation.
Supporter of educational and athletic programs
As the Second Vice President of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated – Beta Alpha Beta Zeta Chapter – LaRhonda organized a comedy show and facilitated a partnership with the Washington Commanders (then Washington Football Team). These served as fundraisers to implement the Chapter’s Inaugural Scholarship Program. In addition, she sponsored a book scholarship to add to the number of scholarships offered. Her efforts offered five scholarships to disadvantaged youth seeking higher education in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.
During the 2022 MLK Day of Service, Gamble contributed to purchasing food items and assembling individual grab-and-go meal bags donated to the St. Mary’s Church of the Ascension, supporting the homeless population in St. Mary’s County. To add to her efforts in supporting the homeless population in St. Mary’s County, LaRhonda also donated feminine hygiene products during Women’s History Month to be distributed to homeless women and girls.
These and her significant participation in many other service projects led to LaRhonda being named the Zeta Phi Beta, Sorority, Incorporated - Beta Alpha Beta Zeta Chapter’s Finer Woman of the Year for 2021-2022.
As the president of the North Point High School (NPHS) Athletic Booster Association, LaRhonda led the North Point High School Athletic Booster Association in finding new ways to raise over $30,000 to support the athletic teams during the unprecedented national pandemic. The funds are also being used to continue to provide scholarships to assist those in need. She also mentors many student-athletes attending NPHS, encouraging them to participate in activism and community service.
As a member of the Charles County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), she served as a delegate during the 2021 NAACP National Convention representing the interest of the members in Charles County. LaRhonda also recognizes that the NAACP is an integral part of the education system in Charles County. Hence, she and others represented the CCNAACP in the new staff recognition program thanking newly hired teachers around the county. As a contribution to this effort, gift cards for the purchase of classroom supplies and lunches were provided to the teachers.
As a member of the National Council of Negro Women-Charles County Section and Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc., Southern Maryland Chapter, LaRhonda participated in a virtual, educational workshop designed to equip participants with the tools of awareness and intervention to fight human trafficking in the state of Maryland, and nationwide.
LaRhonda epitomizes solidarity, outstanding service, and leadership in her advocacy and encourages others to give back and pay it forward.
When asked how one could show her gratitude, she smiled and said, “All I want is for you to pay it forward when you can.”
Lifetime Achievement Award
Arthur B. Johnson is the founding father of AFGE Local 1336 and has not missed even one AFGE convention since founding of AFGE Local 1336 in 1951.
AFGE Local 1336 was chartered as a lodge in 1951 and became the exclusive representative of our SSA bargaining unit in 1963.
While the local is considered a Payment Center Local as it’s based out of an SSA Payment Center (Council 109), it represents employees in five states and the four SSA councils. That’s 3 AFGE Regions and 2 SSA Regions.
But who we are and where we are today is simple: Arthur B. Johnson blazed the trail that has become AFGE Local 1336.
Retiree of the Year
When Glenn Dixon retired, he immediately stepped up to expand retiree opportunities in the Council of Prison Locals (CPL) and throughout District 12. He would set up an AFGE Retiree Table at events and sit for hours on end, engaging with everyone he met.
When COVID upended in-person meetings, Glenn adapted by setting up an exhibit table in his garage for virtual events, and doing virtual presentations.
Glenn was no stranger to AFGE events – he was eager to stay with the union and help out because his love for the union was borne of years of serving his brother and sisters at CPL, his local and nationally.
Due to his deteriorating health, he had to cancel his plans to attend the convention. But even from afar, he is working to get resolutions passed that would strengthen AFGE’s engagement with its retirees.
Glenn Dixon represents all of our retirees as a model of how to stay active and contribute to AFGE and its mission.
We cannot think of anyone more deserving for the inaugural AFGE Retiree of the Year Award.