South Carolina reacts to Boeing board member’s appointment to Commerce Secretary

President Barack Obama stands with John Bryson, his nominee to be the next Commerce Secretary, right, and current Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Tuesday, May 31, 2011, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington.

South Carolina reacts to Obama appointment

BY YVONNE WENGER

ywenger@postandcourier.com

COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s elected leadership is trying to sort through any impact the state might feel on President Barack Obama’s appointment Tuesday of a longtime member of the Boeing Co.’s board to lead the U.S. Commerce Department.

Early reaction from the state’s leadership was split, especially over the implications the appointment will have on the ongoing complaint the National Labor Relations Board has against the aviation giant for its decision to locate an assembly line in North Charleston.

The Associated Press reported that Obama named John Bryson as commerce secretary. Bryson, who has been on Boeing’s board since 1995, is chief executive officer of Edison International.

Obama has picked other Boeing officials for leadership positions as well.

Bill Daley, a former member of Boeing’s board of directors, is the president’s chief of staff. And Obama made Boeing’s CEO James McNerney chairman of the president’s Export Council.

Obama also controls nominations on the Labor Relations Board, specifically its acting general counsel Lafe Solomon and board member Craig Becker.

Gov. Nikki Haley’s press secretary Rob Godfrey said the Republican governor wants Bryson to act on the Boeing complaint. Haley has been persistently calling on Obama to intervene on the matter to re-enforce South Carolina’s anti-union reputation.

“The governor hopes Mr. Bryson’s first order of business will be to tell the president that, if he is serious about creating jobs and growing our economy, he must forcefully weigh in and get the NLRB to drop their frivolous and costly lawsuit against Boeing.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, the 1st district Republican, said he hopes Obama’s expected appointment of Bryson signals a desire of the president to focus more on the country’s ability to export goods and the “challenges” entities, such as the Labor Relations Board, put on companies, including Boeing. But Obama is sending mixed messages, Scott said, by allowing the board to continue to pursue action against Boeing for its decision to locate in the state.

The Labor Relations Board is damping the country’s ability to have a full economic recovery, Scott said.

“Obviously, we believe Boeing and its board have a very competent understanding of the free market and capitalism,” Scott said.

Among state lawmakers, the reaction was split along party lines.

S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a Charleston Democrat and former long-time union organizer, said the appointment is good news for the state and especially the Lowcountry.

“The whole thing of anti-union (sentiment) in South Carolina, I think it’s a facade that the governor has started as to instill fear into the minds of people who just don’t know anything about unions,” Gilliard said.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell is hopeful, too, on the what the news can mean for the state.

“Hopefully Mr. Bryson’s appointment signals a policy shift by the Obama Administration that will lead to more support of free markets and making our economy more competitive,” Harrell said. “Given the Obama-appointed NLRB’s recent legal action against right-to-work states, more private sector influence at agencies like the U.S. Department of Commerce is sorely needed.”

Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, said Obama’s appointment is at odds with the actions of his Labor Relations Board nominees.

“The National Labor Relations Board is sitting here going after us; it’s kind of contradictory,” Merrill said. “I guess it says that the Labor Relations Board is not compatible with the president’s position on how Boeing is run.”

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said she hopes the appointment will do more to bring economic development to rural America, especially because of Boeing’s familiarity with South Carolina-based issues.

“I think the president’s appointment makes it clear that this whole NLRB intervention has zero to do with this administration as some, including the governor, have claimed,” Cobb-Hunter said. “When I look at Boeing and its corporate responsibility, particularly what they have in Washington state, I am proud that my president would chose a man of that stature to head Commerce.”

Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said he does not know what to make of the dynamic. He was one of the state’s top negotiators that brought Boeing to North Charleston.

“It’s puzzling,” Leatherman said. “His (Obama’s) own NLRB is saying that Boeing ought to take the plant out of South Carolina. ...

“Quite often an issue will come up, and I tell some of my colleagues, ‘you must have been on the road to Damascus last night, and that brilliant light came and you saw the light.’ ”

Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, said he believes Bryson will have great influence over the Labor Relations Board in his new position and that will be good for the state and its jobs.

“Boeing is going to be union within five years in South Carolina, because the workers are going to organize,” Ford said. “Boeing is not going to stand in the way. What’s happening here is totally unprecedented. Nobody have no right to talk about, ‘I am going to stand in the front of Boeing and stop people from organizing,’ like the governor is trying to do, and others.”

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, said he is waiting to see what happens next.

“I hope it is more than window dressing, but it doesn’t do away with the actions of the NLRB against Boeing, and so I will have to wait to see whether there is any substantive consequence,” McConnell said. “You still got the suit. You still got the objections. You still got the hostile actions of the NLRB. That hasn’t changed. All it has done is put a little something else on the landscape.”