John Sturdivant, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employees' union, died Tuesday night after a year-long battle with leukemia. He was 59.
Sturdivant was elected in 1988 as the first African-American to head AFGE and the first to be president of any major AFL-CIO union. In August of this year he was reelected to a fourth term as AFGE's national president.
He was diagnosed with leukemia in December and had undergone extensive chemotherapy over the last year.
Sturdivant served on the National Partnership Council, advocating better labor-management relationships in federal agencies. He helped push the passage of Hatch Act reform, which allowed federal employees to become more politically active. He frequently appeared before Congress in support of union positions on issues ranging from privatization to bargaining rights.
Under Sturdivant's leadership, AFGE recently embarked on a "follow the work" initiative, an effort to maintain relationships with employees even after their facilities were privatized. When the Indianapolis Naval Air Warfare Center was privatized, AFGE negotiated a labor contract with Hughes Aircraft.
Born in Philadelphia on June 30, 1938, Sturdivant was raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1956, he enlisted in the Air Force. He began his civilian career in 1961 as an employee of the Army Interagency Communications Agency in Winchester, Va. Sturdivant rose through the leadership ranks of Local 1754 in Winchester, serving as local president from 1968 to 1976. In 1976, he accepted a staff position with the AFGE National Office in Washington. He was elected vice president of the AFL-CIO Executive Council in 1989.
Sturdivant was named one of Ebony Magazine's 100 Most Influential Blacks in America and was presented with a Spirit of Democracy Award by the National Coalition on Black Voter Participation, Inc. (NCBVP) for advocating civic participation in the African-American community.
He is survived by his daughter and mother.
AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer Bobby Harnage will serve out the remainder of Sturdivant's three-year term.
President Clinton issued the following statement:
"For more than 30 years, John played a vital role in the success of the American trade union movement. A born organizer, his determination, leadership and commitment were central ingredients to the growth of AGFE - the largest government employee union.
A champion of labor-management partnerships, he played an important and highly visible role in our initiative to reinvent government. He was a true hero of the reinvention process and his efforts contributed in a great measure to a government that really works for all citizens.
I saw his commitment to federal employees first-hand when we worked together during the Oklahoma City tragedy. He was a man who considered every government worker - AGFE member or not -- his sister or brother. His vision and creative leadership in improving the safety and security for all federal employees at work will be just one of his legacies.
But another legacy will be his tenacity and strength - which he clearly demonstrated during the government shutdowns in 1995. These events were truly defining moments for John and his union. His leadership was an inspiration to all of us and I was very proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with him in this fight."
Vice President Al Gore described Sturdivant as a "warm, caring and dedicated person."
"He was a good friend, and an important ally in some of our most important initiatives," Gore said in a statement. "He cared deeply about this country, and the role that government can play in making life better for Americans.
"John was a tireless voice for the federal employees that he represented. He was at the center of a new partnership between federal managers and employees that is critical to moving the federal government forward into the 21st century."
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, November 4 in Springfield, Va. The family requests that contributions be made instead of flowers to Life With Cancer, Fairfax Hospital, 3300 Gallows Road, Falls Church, Va. 22042. For more information on the funeral, call 202-639-6419.