A potential Republican candidate for governor warned members of the Greenville Chamber Wednesday that pro-union sentiment may be growing in South Carolina.
Catherine Templeton, a Charleston resident who ran the state Department of Health and Environmental Control under Gov. Nikki Haley, spoke to the chamber’s Legislative Committee and Manufacturing Roundtable.
She cited the results of a 2015 survey taken by the Palmetto Shield, an alliance of business groups, that she said showed majority support for organized labor among people who had lived in South Carolina for five years or less.
“It’s a shocking result, especially for those of us who were pretty sure we were anti-union,” Templeton said.
She said South Carolina has been growing fast and has a “new demographic that we need to be aware of. And it’s only going to continue to become more of a majority.”
Echoing the anti-union rhetoric of Haley, Templeton accused organized labor of using “dishonorable” tactics in trying to penetrate the “greenfield” state of South Carolina, which historically has had one of the lowest unionization rates in the country.
She also urged employers to make sure they’re communicating with employees and treating them with respect.
Templeton later told The Greenville News that residents who had lived in South Carolina five years or less accounted for 9 percent of those who responded to the survey. She said she was not at liberty to disclose all of the survey results.
Templeton is a Wofford College graduate who worked for Milliken & Co. in Spartanburg before joining Ogletree Deakins, a labor law firm with Greenville origins. While at Ogletree Deakins, she helped represent management when the United Auto Workers tried unsuccessfully to organize the Nissan factory in Smyrna, Tennessee.
At least four Ogletree Deakins lawyers were among those who heard her speak Wednesday.
Templeton is currently president of Brawley Templeton LLC, a consultancy in Charleston.
Before taking the podium, Templeton confirmed that she is thinking about running for governor as a Republican.
She said the Palmetto Shield, the organization that commissioned the survey, was formed by the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, the South Carolina Hospital Association and the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association to educate workers about the “unintended consequences” of unionization.
In unrelated remarks earlier Wednesday, an economist with PNC Bank said he sees a connection between South Carolina’s low unionization rate and relatively low wages.
“Generally the higher rates of unionization mean higher wages,” Augustine “Gus” Faucher, deputy chief economist for Pittsburgh-based PNC, said in response to a question from The News. “That’s part of the jobs of unions is to raise wages for their workers. So I think there is a tie between (South Carolina’s) low rate of unionization and its lower-than-average wages.”
At the same time, Faucher said, a low unionization rate and relatively low wages make South Carolina more competitive in recruiting industry.
Faucher was in Greenville to speak at Furman University, where nearly 300 banking executives from around the country have gathered this week for a 10-day executive education program organized annually by the Consumer Bankers Association.