March 27, 2015

NLRB sets date for union elections at Boeing SC

Credit: Lindsay Street

An assembly worker moves a portion of a wing around the Boeing South Carolina plant in North Charleston.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has set the date for a vote on unionization at Boeing’s South Carolina facility in North Charleston.

The vote asking more than 2,400 employees if they want to be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) is scheduled for April 22. The machinists union requested an election earlier this month providing the signatures of 30 percent of workers, as federal law requires for any election. The vote would be held on the single day set by the NLRB and agreed upon by Boeing and the IAM.

The vote would only cover the production workers who assemble the company’s 787 Dreamliner. A simple majority of the vote is all that’s needed for approval. South Carolina’s “right to work” laws do not require employees to join the union if it is approved, but the IAM would still represent them in any collective bargaining.

Both the union and Boeing will be allowed to present the cases for and against unionization over the next month.

South Carolina leaders — particularly Gov. Nikki Haley – have strongly advocated against the plant’s unionization, arguing Boeing chose South Carolina largely because of the state’s “Right-to-Work” laws. In her State of the State speech this year, the governor noted IAM had filed a suit with the NLRB that sought to prevent Boeing from expanding into South Carolina.

The union said it filed the petition after “a significant number” of Boeing employees signed authorization cards. In a statement, IAM said Boeing workers had “numerous workplace concerns,” including forced overtime, fair wages and a lack of respect on the shop floor. IAM spokesman Frank Larkin said employees are mostly concerned about “changing rules” that vary based upon who is the manager on the floor at the time.

Jay Harper contributed to this report

Former Pee Dee sheriff seeking lesser sentence on conspiracy charge

Former WIlliamsburg County sheriff Michael Johnson (Image Williamsburg County Sheriff's Office)

Former WIlliamsburg County sheriff Michael Johnson (Image: Williamsburg County)

The now-former sheriff of Williamsburg County is asking a federal judge for a reduced sentence after his fraud conviction, with his attorney arguing that Michael Johnson has no previous criminal record and suffers from depression.

Johnson is facing up to three years in prison after a federal jury convicted him of conspiracy to commit wire fraud last year. Prosecutors said the Williamsburg County sheriff compiled false identity theft reports to benefit a Columbia credit repair business FIG Investments, LLC. The owner of that business Lester Woods is also scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday.

An indictment claimed Woods would get credit agencies to improve his clients’ credit scores by asking Johnson to write 130 phony police reports that made it appear the individuals had their identities stolen. Prosecutors never said how Johnson was compensated for his actions, if at all.

Court records show that Johnson’s attorney Debbie Barbier has requested leniency, asking the former sheriff be sentenced to less than the 30-37 months recommended by prosecutors. Barbier argued her client has no previous criminal record and cooperated with investigators.

Johnson’s attorney also wrote in court documents that Johnson suffers from both depression and anxiety.

District Court Judge Terry Wooten will preside over Wednesday’s hearing, scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Matthew Perry Federal Courthouse in Columbia.

Johnson was elected as sheriff of the rural Pee Dee county in 2010. Gov. Nikki Haley suspended him from office in February after a federal grand jury handed down the conspiracy charge.

Report: Haley approved borrowing more than $1 billion, despite anti-debt stance


Gov. Nikki Haley (File)

An Associated Press review found Governor Nikki Haley approved more than $1 billion in state-backed borrowing as head of the state’s financial oversight board, even as she chastised South Carolina House GOP leaders for proposing to borrow about $500 million for building projects statewide.

The Republican governor has previously said borrowing through bonds is meant for big capital projects that aren’t the normal course of business.

Yet the AP review of Budget and Control Board documents showed Haley and other members of the board have approved paying for small projects such as plumbing upgrades and roof repair through bonding. The oversight board Haley chairs has approved funding more than $1.1 billion worth of new projects at South Carolina’s public colleges through bonds.

While nearly all of those bonds were financed by the individual colleges without tax dollars (such as tuition or through fees), the state is ultimately responsible for repayment of the credit.

Last week, Haley said she objected to how the House bill was handled but could support a different bond package.



Study: SC facing shortfall of over 100,000 workers with college degrees

Francis Marion University (File)

Francis Marion University (File)

A new report released Tuesday predicts that South Carolina will be short more than 114,000 college graduates by 2030 — roughly the same number of people who live in the cities of Greenville and Spartanburg combined– if no changes occur.

Competing Through Knowledge, the SC Business Leaders Higher Education Council project that released the report, revealed information that calculates the state’s workforce will have a shortfall of more than 100,000 skilled graduates for the most in-demand career fields.

The report is based on a study by the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business. Research economists Dr. Doug Woodward and Dr. Joey Von Nessen calculated the state will lack 70,540 graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher. In addition to these graduates, there will also be a shortage of 44,010 workers with two-year degrees.

In its analysis of those findings, Competing Through Knowledge highlighted proposals that would put more students through college. Some of those ideas include rebates for students in fields with the greatest market needs and financial aid for students with poor and middle-class backgrounds. It also suggest more accessible online courses and additional higher education funding from the state.

“We wanted to make sure that South Carolina had the type of workforce that it needed to satisfy the job market not just this year and next year, but for the next 15 years,” former Gov. Jim Hodges, who is helping lead the initiative, told South Carolina Radio Network.

The study notes the gap already exists: data from the National Skills Coalition found 57 percent of South Carolina’s jobs in 2012 required “middle skills” (some education after high school, but not a 4-year college degree), while only 47 percent of the state’s workforce was at that skill level. The same study also predicted 53 percent of new jobs would require “middle skills.”

The report recommends finding ways to increase the number of graduates in several fields — especially science, math, and healthcare. In particular, the report estimated an additional 44,000 healthcare workers will be needed by 2030.

BMW celebrates 3 millionth vehicle manufactured in SC

BMW employee puts finishing touches on an X5 model in this file image provided by BMW Manufacturing

BMW employee puts finishing touches on an X5 model in this file image provided by BMW Manufacturing

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the three millionth BMW produced in South Carolina!”

With those words, a grey metallic X5 Sports Activity Vehicle drove off the factory floor at the German automaker’s Greer plant as onlookers watched in a Tuesday ceremony. BMW is celebrating the milestone, as the company enters its 21st year in the South Carolina Upstate.

“The growth of this plant has been quite extraordinary,” said BMW Manufacturing President and CEO Manfred Erlacher. ”Today, as we witness another historic moment, I am delighted to announce that BMW’s profound impact in South Carolina continues.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Commerce confirmed that BMW is the largest US exporter of passenger vehicles by value. Nearly 250,000 vehicles were exported from the South Carolina plant to locations overseas, according to the company. South Carolina officials have spent millions improving state infrastructure to benefit the state-owned port’s largest customer, including building an Inland Port rail terminal that opened near the plant in 2013.

The Greer plant manufactures BMW’s X series SUVs and “Sports Activity” crossovers, including the X3, X4, X5, X6. The company says the site produced nearly 350,000 vehicles last year.

Several dignitaries were in attendance, including Gov. Nikki Haley, Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt, and State Ports Authority President & CEO Jim Newsome.

BMW said the three-millionth X5 paraded before media outlets and guests on Tuesday will eventually be delivered to a customer in Sweden.

Jenna Kochenauer of Greenville affiliate WORD News contributed to this report