COLUMBIA — S.C. officials hope that President Obama's nomination of a Boeing Co. executive as the new U.S. Commerce secretary Tuesday signals support for the company's decision to expand operations in North Charleston.
The nomination of John Bryson, a 16-year member of the Boeing board of directors and former chief executive officer of California-based Edison International, marks the third time the president has tapped a Boeing executive for his administration.
Because of Bryson's connections, Gov. Nikki Haley and some state lawmakers want Bryson to intervene on behalf of the Obama administration in the dispute between Boeing and the National Labor Relations Board centered on the aviation giant's decision to locate an assembly line in North Charleston, and not in Washington state. The complaint contends that a 2008 union strike at a Washington facility led to the decision to build in South Carolina.
Haley argues that the lawsuit could weaken the state's anti-union stances and be harmful to economic development in America.
"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," Haley's press secretary Rob Godfrey said in a statement.
Obama controls nominations on the National Labor Relations Board.
The reaction of state lawmakers was split along party lines.
Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a Charleston Democrat and former longtime union organizer, said Obama's appointment will help ease tensions over the Boeing complaint. Haley's representation of South Carolina as anti-union state is not an accurate reflection, he said.
"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. "A union is not the 3,000-pound monster in the room."
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said more private sector influence in government is needed.
"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.
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," McConnell said. "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."
The lawsuit is not expected to delay the July opening of the 787 plant in North Charleston. A National Labor Relations Board judge is scheduled to review the suit in June 14.