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IBEW 46’s Sean Bagsby leads his union into a new era

MLK Labor sat down with IBEW Local 46 Leader Sean Bagsby to learn about his story and vision


The following is from MLK Labor:

KENT, Wash. (Dec. 12, 2023) — Sean Bagsby’s love for electrical work began when he took his first electronics class in the 7th grade.

“I was blessed to have the opportunity to take industrial arts in public school and that’s where my love for electronics began,” he explains.

He continued taking electronics throughout high school at Roosevelt where he bussed in from his home in the Central District. This opportunity was the first series of moments in his life that led him to lead the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 46.


Sean Bagsby is Business Manager and Financial Secretary for IBEW Local 48. He also serves as a Vice President on the Executive Board of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO (WSLC).

Growing up in a melting pot

Bagsby was born and raised in Seattle’s Central District. His parents immigrated from the American South when his father got a job as a Union Machinist at Boeing.

“The beauty of growing up in the Central District was that it exposed me to all different types of people,” he remembers. “In one day, you could walk up to the LGBTQ+ hub on Broadway in Capitol Hill, down into Chinatown, and then over into the University District. You had all walks of life in a small area.”

His first job was at QFC in Capitol Hill where he was a member of UFCW and saw first-hand the benefits of having union representation at work.

After high school, he received an electronics degree from ITT Tech but soon realized the potential of a career in construction. The next opportunity presented itself when a friend suggested he enter the IBEW Apprenticeship program.

Bagsby graduated from the electrical apprenticeship program in 2004 and began working in the field. He became an active member of IBEW through volunteer opportunities at Local 46 at the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.


From foreman to leading his union

On New Year’s Eve in 2008, an unfortunate layoff created another unexpected opportunity. With his extra time, Sean began volunteering on a new program to develop an Electric Vehicle charging network. This soon led to a full-time job at the union as the newly-formed Alternative Energy Director.

“I was ready to go back to working in the field when the leader of the union, Virgil Hamilton, gave me an opportunity to come on to staff,” he says.

Over the next decade, he worked as a Business Representative and Organizer at the union and served in several elected leadership roles. In 2020, Sean was elected by Local 46 members to the highest position in the union, Business Manager and Financial Secretary.


Sean Bagsby (pictured with WSLC President April Sims and Secretary Treasurer Cherika Carter) was presented the 2023 Lift Every Voice Award by the WSLC Racial Justice and Diversity Committee. “Bagsby exemplifies union leadership and what it looks like to fight for all workers’ voices to be heard,” Sims said. “His authentic, steady leadership is invaluable for Washington’s labor movement.”


A powerful vision for the future

When asked about his favorite part of leading the 6,200-member IBEW 46, Sean mentions accountability and responsibility.

“The best part about leading IBEW 46 is that I get to be the tip of the spear of making change,” he remarks. “I have 6,000 bosses. I enjoy hearing every member’s complaint because it means I have an opportunity to make something right — to make a difference.”

Part of that vision for change is to increase the pipeline of apprenticeship opportunities for people to learn the electrical trade. With a growing need for electrification across industries, there could be near-limitless demand for skilled electricians. Bagsby wants to ensure that industry standards remain high and these jobs come with union representation, quality benefits, and family wages.

Throughout his life, Sean Bagsby has embraced the opportunities presented to him from a family with strong values of social justice to a career in a union that is building the infrastructure of tomorrow. Now as a leader of his union, he strives to create those opportunities for the next generation.

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