South Carolina is glad to have non-union jobs from BMW, Michelin and Boeing, but don’t expect any factories from Ford, General Motors, Chrysler or other companies with unionized work forces.
According to Gov. Nikki Haley, they’re not welcome.
Haley said Wednesday that she discourages companies from building new facilities in South Carolina if they are planning to bring a union with them.
“It’s not something we want to see happen,” she told The Greenville News following an appearance at an automotive conference in downtown Greenville.
“We discourage any companies that have unions from wanting to come to South Carolina because we don’t want to taint the water.”
State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, Haley’s Democratic opponent in this year’s gubernatorial race, said he thinks South Carolina should remain a right-to-work state where workers are free to decide whether to join unions or not.
“But I also think that if Ford Motor Co. wanted to bring 10,000 jobs to South Carolina, we would welcome them with open arms,” Sheheen said.
“We need good, high-paying jobs in South Carolina. Part of leadership is putting ideology and partisanship to the side when there’s something that could be good for South Carolina.”
Haley isn’t the first South Carolina Republican to reflect the South’s traditional anti-union bias, but she’s been especially outspoken against unions inserting themselves as mediators between workers and their employers.
GOP animosity toward unions grew red-hot in South Carolina during Haley’s first year as governor after the National Labor Relations Board went to court to block the Boeing Co. from making its Dreamliner jet at a new factory in North Charleston.
The NLRB argued that Boeing had built the plant in right-to-work South Carolina in retaliation for past union strikes at the company’s Puget Sound operations but ultimately dropped the complaint.
Haley has continued to remind voters of what the agency tried to do, and did it again Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency Greenville while appearing at the South Carolina Automotive Summit, an annual conference for the state’s auto industry.
The governor urged more than 200 people at the conference, many of them auto industry executives, to keep up their guard against unions.
“They’re coming into South Carolina. They’re trying,” Haley warned. “We’re hearing it. The good news is it’s not working.”
Haley promised to keep fighting against union penetration.
“You’ve heard me say many times I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement,” she said. “It’s because we’re kicking them every day, and we’ll continue to kick them.”
Her comments came less than a week after the United Auto Workers failed in its latest attempt to organize an automotive plant in the Southeast.
Employees at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., voted against UAW representation on Friday in a major blow to the union.
State Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt said he couldn’t recall the last time a company with a unionized work force approached his agency about establishing a new facility in South Carolina.
“Companies that are traditional union companies don’t seem to come looking for an operation in South Carolina,” said Hitt, a former BMW executive appointed by Haley. “I think our brand and our image precedes us in that regard.”
Hitt said Commerce officials inquire about an economic development prospect’s labor traditions, “but we’ve never told someone outright no. I think we’ve never gotten to that.”
Lewis Gossett, president of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, which has organized the automotive conference in Greenville the past three years, said he thinks Haley is “dead on” about unions.
“Organized labor has no place down here,” Gossett said. “We don’t need them. We don’t need them to replicate what they’ve done in the Midwest and the Northeast. The governor gets that. And she’s taken some very strong stands about it, and we love it.”
Erin McKee, however, president of the South Carolina chapter of the AFL-CIO, said she doesn’t think Haley is helping.
South Carolinians “have the right to have good jobs, and if those are union jobs, they’re union jobs,” McKee said. “And to keep jobs from coming here because they’re union, I don’t think she’s representing the people.”
Sheheen said his position on the NLRB case was that he wanted Boeing to stay in South Carolina and didn’t want the company to be penalized.