Battle Creek, Mich., Local 445 member Steven Claywell, center, was sworn in as president of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council in August along with sprinkler fitters Local 704 member Patrick Devlin as secretary-treasurer. Pipefitters Local 636 Business Manager Frank Wiechert administered the oath. Photo credit: Marty Mulcahy.  

Steven Claywell was unanimously elected to the second-highest position in the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, the first IBEW member to do so in almost 20 years.  

“It’s a great honor to have the support of my brothers and sisters,” said Claywell, who served for 12 years as Battle Creek, Mich., Local 445’s business manager and stepped down to assume the full-time presidency.

Claywell was elected president at the council’s 51st convention in August along with sprinkler fitters Local 704 member Patrick Devlin as secretary-treasurer. The council’s constitution states that the secretary-treasurer is the highest office, followed by the president. Both are four-year terms.

A journeyman wireman and IBEW member for more than 20 years, Claywell earned the confidence and respect of his fellow trades members through years of hard work and activism, said Detroit Local 58 Business Manager Michael Richard. Claywell chairs Kellogg Community College’s board of trustees and previously served on the council’s executive board. He also chaired the IBEW Michigan State Conference, a position now held by Richard.

“Steve will do an amazing job, both for the trades as a whole and for the IBEW,” Richard said.

Part of the president’s duties entail traveling the state and lobbying legislators in Lansing, Michigan’s capital, Claywell said. He’ll also handle political affairs.

“It’s important to have someone like Steve in that position,” Richard said. “He’s got a lot of experience and knows the players in Lansing.”

A major priority for the building trades is fighting back a petition effort to repeal the prevailing wage. If enough signatures are gathered, about 250,000, the petition will go to the Republican-led legislature which can either vote on it – and circumvent the need for the governor’s approval – or let it go before the people for a vote in the 2018 election.

“It’s a huge issue for us,” Claywell said. “The opposition is using any and all means to gather those signatures, including deception.”

In the 1990s, Michigan suspended the prevailing wage on school projects. Despite pro-repeal claims of saving money, the projects were poorly executed, worker injuries increased and it ended up costing the state more than anticipated. The law was reinstated three years later.

The forces behind the initiative include the Michigan chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors – a well-funded group known for being aggressively anti-union. It has already spent more than $600,000 toward the repeal effort, reported the Detroit News.

Claywell says another priority is promoting union apprenticeships. The council commissioned a study, released in April, which found that without any state funding, these programs train 80 percent of the Great Lake State’s apprentices and have completion rates that are almost double that of nonunion apprenticeships.

Unbeknownst to the council, the governor’s office also did a study which largely mirrored the Building Trades’. Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, supports both apprenticeships and the prevailing wage, likely a reason for the ABC to choose a repeal route that locks out his pledged veto.

“I don’t see the point of sticking them in the eye or picking a fight with good people who have been good partners who have done good things that really care about bringing our state back,” Snyder said. “…I want to see them increase apprenticeships.”