CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) - Little more than a week after taking the oath of office, Gov. Nikki Haley has been sued by a trade union and the AFL-CIO, for saying the state would try to keep unions out of a new Boeing plant being built in North Charleston, next to Charleston International Airport.
The federal complaint from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the South Carolina branch of the AFL-CIO was inspired by remarks Haley made in December when she nominated Catherine Templeton, a Charleston attorney, to head the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Haley, a onetime protégé of scandal-plagued former Gov. Mark Sanford, played up Templeton's union-fighting background as an attorney with the Ogletree Deakins law firm and said she would help protect the state from unionization efforts, particularly at Boeing.
Templeton's biography on the Ogletree Deakins website notes that she has been "involved in union avoidance for the past 14 years," and adds, "She has extensive experience in national labor campaigns against the UAW, IBEW, and the Teamsters. ... In fact, her first campaign was the most notorious UAW campaign in decades," the website gushed.
In nominating her, Haley said Templeton is "ready for the challenge. We're going to fight the unions and I needed a partner to help me do it. She's the right person to help me do it."
In its 16-page complaint, the union accuses Haley and Templeton of pursuing an anti-union policy by "unlawfully utilizing 'increased regulatory scrutiny' of union activity and threats to immediately activate the 'punitive machinery' of state government against unions and against employees who wish to join or who advocate in favor of unions."
The union's Southern Territory Vice President Bob Martinez said in a statement: "Gov. Haley placed her hand on a Bible and swore to defend the Constitution of the United States. But her stated intention is to actively oppose workers in South Carolina who wish to exercise their legal right to join a union. There is nothing in the governor's oath of office that gives her the right to choose which laws to enforce and which to ignore."
Martinez continued: "By tasking Templeton to lead the fight against union organizing in South Carolina, and specifically against the IAM at the Boeing facility in North Charleston, Gov. Haley is requesting a state official to violate the very law she is charged with enforcing."
The union asks the court to order Haley and Templeton to remain neutral in matters concerning union activities.
But the new governor appears unbowed. Speaking with reporters after the complaint was filed, Haley said, "There's no secret I don't like the unions and that we are a right-to-work state.
"I will do everything I can to defend the fact we are a right-to-work state. We are pro-business by nature. I want us to continue to be pro-business. If they don't like what I said, I'm sorry, that's how I feel."