Attorney general argues against union suit

Boeing Co. is working toward opening its assembly plant in North Charleston for its 787 passenger jet in July.

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's attorney general told a federal judge Thursday that he should dismiss a union's lawsuit against Gov. Nikki Haley after she said she would fight to keep unions out of the Boeing Co. plant in North Charleston.

Haley nominated Catherine Templeton in December to run the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, and said Templeton's union-fighting background would be helpful in state fights against the labor groups, particularly at Boeing.

"She is ready for the challenge," Haley said at the time. "We're going to fight the unions and I needed a partner to help me do it."

Templeton, a Charleston attorney, said she would "do everything we can to work with Boeing and make sure that their work force is taken care of, that they run efficiently and that we don't add anything unnecessarily."

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers cited those remarks in a lawsuit last month that said the actions of the governor and Templeton effectively intimidate workers so that they don't join or support unions.

Attorney General Alan Wilson said Thursday that Haley and Templeton are within their rights.

"First and foremost, both the governor and director of the LLR have a right to free speech in their official capacities," Wilson said in his lawsuit response. "A government official does not shed their constitutional right to freedom of speech or expression upon the taking of public office."

Besides, Wilson noted, neither Haley nor Templeton had taken office when the remarks were made, which means their remarks were personal rather than an effort to use their offices to thwart unions.

However, Haley has been sending clear messages, said Bob Martinez, general vice president for the union's regional office in Arlington, Texas.

"She cannot use the machinery of the state government to suppress workers' rights in South Carolina," Martinez said Thursday. "We don't need big brother government getting involved in whether workers can organize or not."

The state's lack of unions is one reason Boeing picked North Charleston as the second assembly site for its 787 jet.

The long-delayed passenger plane is now built exclusively in Everett, Wash., where a 2008 strike by the machinists union forced the company to shut its commercial aircraft operations for eight weeks.

Three 787s a month are to be made by an estimated 3,800 workers at Boeing's site at Charleston International Airport as production ramps up. The $750 million factory is set to open this summer. The existing Everett plant is set to make seven a month.

The head of Boeing's commercial airplanes division said this week that the company could eventually increase the production rate beyond 10 per month it plans to build by the end of 2013.

Jim Albaugh told The Daily Herald of Everett that Boeing will have the capacity to assemble 15 planes a month once all production lines at Everett and in South Carolina are operating.

Albaugh said producing 15 a month would require additional investments in the 787's supply chain, but there is demand for more than 10 jets a month.

Boeing has said it hopes to deliver the first 787 to a customer later this year, more than three years behind its original schedule.

The Post and Courier contributed to this report.