Michigan’s working families have a new powerful voice in government with the recent appointment of Muskegon, Mich., Local 275-member Sean Egan to the state’s department of labor.
|Muskegon, Mich., Local 275 member Sean Egan, right, helped coordinate the annual A. Philip Randolph Institute’s trunk or treat event for Halloween in Grand Rapids, Mich. in 2018 with fellow EWMC member Jamal Williamson, left.
“We couldn't have a better representative of the IBEW in Michigan government than Sean,” said Local 275 Business Manager Jonas Talbott. “His focus has always been on labor and working families over himself. It’s evident in pretty much everything he does.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Egan deputy director for labor in the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. The role is part of the executive leadership team and provides direct oversight of the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Michigan Workers Disability Compensation Agency, the Michigan Bureau of Employment Relations and the Michigan Wage and Hour Division. The larger department also encompasses the Unemployment Insurance Agency, the Workforce Development Agency and a new Department of Prosperity.
“The department touches on nearly all aspects of a person’s working life, so it’s imperative for labor to have a voice at the table,” Egan said. “We usually do have friends in the legislative halls, which is important, but the real work of government happens in the departments and the agencies that establish the rules of the game.”
A journeyman wireman by trade, Egan served as business manager of Local 275 from 2007 to 2017, and as president and assistant business manager before that. During that time, he also attended law school, graduating from Western Michigan University’s Cooley School of Law in 2013 with honors.
“Law school just kind of happened for me,” Egan said. “There were times when I’d be in meetings with executives and realize that, while I had their respect, I felt they were still looking at the trades as less educated because I didn’t have a college degree. Being a hardheaded Irishman, I decided I would get a degree with classes in the evenings and weekends.”
Egan has also served as president of his local labor council and as the local building trades president. In 2017, Grand Rapids, Mich., Local 876 was going through a leadership transition and Business Manager Chad Clark asked Egan if he would come on board and assist the local as it navigated 30-plus contracts, the transition, operational needs and other issues. So Egan made the move to serve as the local’s general counsel. He credits the move with giving him experience in the utility, government, and outside branches of the union.
“I had never really intended to leave IBEW Local 275, but a culmination of factors pushed me in a different direction,” Egan said. “Having the ability and fortitude to pursue this level of education has proven invaluable for our brothers and sisters through negotiations, grievances, organizing and so much more.”
Egan’s background isn’t one often found in government positions, even those tasked with overseeing the lives of working people. He and other Michigan labor leaders know he’ll bring a unique pro-worker perspective to the role.
“I have not yet met an attorney on our side or management’s that has the mix of experience I have,” Egan said. “The most important thing we bring with us from the field to our leadership roles in our union, in politics, or in my case the department, is our experience. As a wireman, I fully understand what our brothers and sisters experience every day and the threats they face.”
Egan also volunteers with the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s annual trunk or treat event at Halloween, as a tax preparer through the United Way for low income people to maximize the Earned Income Tax Credit and Michigan-specific tax credits, Labor Day events, his local union audit committee, and with other service events through his local and labor council.
Whitmer, a Democrat, won election in 2018 and ended eight years of Republican leadership under Gov. Rick Snyder that was hostile to unions and working families, including pushing through a controversial right-to-work law in 2012.
“Gov. Whitmer has been a friend to working families for her entire life and fully comprehends the role that labor plays,” Egan said. “After enduring eight years with an administration that had no interest in communicating, supporting or otherwise engaging labor or working families, she has opened the door. We have a seat at almost every table now.”