COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley won a federal appeal in a lawsuit over anti-union remarks Thursday, with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals saying it agreed with a South Carolina judge’s dismissal of a case by the machinists union.
“The unions alleged no specific regulatory action taken against them or their allies pursuant to the Right to Work law or any other law,” the court wrote. “They pointed instead to statements made by Appellees that contain anti-union rhetoric.”
The International Association of Machinists and AFL-CIO teamed up to sue Haley and Catherine Templeton, who was then the director of South Carolina’s labor department and now heads the state’s health and environmental agency. The unions wanted Haley ordered to remain neutral in union matters, but a judge ruled in August that federal labor laws don’t prohibit “the expression of political animosity toward unions.”
South Carolina is a right-to-work state, meaning unions can’t force membership across an entire worksite as a condition of employment.
Attorneys for the machinists union did not immediately return messages seeking comment. In a statement, Haley reiterated her anti-union stance.
“The efforts of union bosses to silence our free speech and stop us from standing up for our workers and businesses have failed — and we’re going to continue to make it very clear: Unions are not needed, not wanted and not welcome in South Carolina,” she said.
The lawsuit stemmed from several remarks, including those Haley made when she nominated Templeton. Haley said her background would be helpful in state fights against unions.
“We are going to fight the unions and I need a partner to help me do it,” Haley said in nominating Templeton in December 2010.
In their ruling, the three-judge panel quoted from that same news conference, adding that the unions only pointed to those same statements as well.
“The statements alleged by the unions contain nothing that we could plausibly interpret as indicating imminence,” the judges wrote.
“Most of the statements do not reference action at all. ... Even the statements that include an indication of action, however — for example, Haley’s statement that Appellees are ‘going to fight the unions’ — are far too broad and nebulous to allow us to interpret them as intimating imminent action.”
“There is no secret I don’t like unions,” Haley said, shortly after she was inaugurated. “I will do everything I can to defend the fact that we are a right-to-work state.”
A few months later, Haley told reporters “we are not going to allow unions to come into this state” made it clear she didn’t want unions in Boeing’s 787 assembly plant in North Charleston.
The Boeing facility was also at the center of another labor dispute. The National Labor Relations Board brought a complaint against the aircraft manufacturer alleging the nonunion South Carolina plant was built in retaliation for past union strikes in Washington state. The complaint was dropped late last year after the Machinists Union approved a contract extension and Boeing promised to build a new version of the 787 in Washington.
The plant employs around 6,000 and, last week, rolled out its first completed jet, which is still about two months from delivery. The engines still need to be tested and the plane needs to be flown.