COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley and her former labor agency head won a federal appeal Thursday in a lawsuit over anti-union remarks, 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 agency and now heads the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control.
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.”
U.S. District Court Judge Weston Houck said in his dismissal that the unions failed to demonstrate that Haley and Templeton followed up on their remarks with “coercion, intimidation, or imminent threat of adverse public action.”
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 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 in December when she nominated Templeton. Haley said her background would be helpful in state fights against unions, particularly at the Boeing 787 assembly plant in North Charleston.
In their ruling, the three-judge panel quoted from that same news conference, noting 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 ... are far too broad and nebulous to allow us to interpret them as intimating imminent action.”
The Post and Courier contributed to this report.