Bobby Hitt on media, unions and other stuff

SC Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt speaking to the Columbia Rotary Club on Monday.

Here’s a post I’ve been meaning to get to all week…

Fellow Rotarian Jimmy Covington asked my long-ago managing editor, Bobby Hitt, what he thought of the news media today. Bobby, who is now SC Commerce secretary, said:

I think that it’s as good as it can be.

That was followed by a long pause, with Bobby regarding the crowd with one of those patented Hitt wiseguy grins as they laughed with appreciation, before he added:

… but not as good as it was.

That said more succinctly what I say so often in answer to the same question. My more wordy answer goes something like, “You have to understand that my friends who still have jobs in the MSM are working heroically in the face of a really horrific lack of resources, yadda yadda….” Bobby put it more cleverly.

Here are some other things he said to the Columbia Rotary Club Monday…

  • Between the newspaper and Commerce, Bobby spent 18 years at BMW. So it was with some authority that he said that whatever you may think about the government providing economic incentives to attract jobs — however much you may want markets to take care of everything — the truth is that “BMW has never built an Interstate highway, and has no plans to do so in the future.” But without them, no BMWs would get delivered, and there would be no BMW plant in Greer.
  • A core strength of South Carolina in economic development is that “We’re good at making stuff.” When’s the last time, he asked, that a manufacturing company located here and then left? That’s why, aside from the new Bridgestone plant, Michelin has just expanded. Those are jobs that are here to stay, he said: Our grandchildren will be working at those plants. “The world gets us, maybe better sometimes than we get ourselves.”
  • Tensions between one part of the state and another are “foolish.” A great advantage we have is that we are a small state, and it’s possible for us to work together statewide. “I look at South Carolina as one big county” in promoting economic development.
  • “I would like to see a time when South Carolinians are not just on the plant floor; they’re in the front office.”
  • Staying a right-to-work state is key to economic development, and in any event it’s not up to him. He just doesn’t see any political chance of it changing. He said he doesn’t see South Carolinians as interested in third-party representation: “Most people in South Carolina don’t want to be told what to do by anyone other than the one that pays them.”

24 thoughts on “Bobby Hitt on media, unions and other stuff

  1. Mark Stewart

    “When’s the last time that a manufacturing company located here and then left?”

    Ummm, you mean besides the textile industry?

    It strikes me as more serious the notion that “our grandchildren will be working at those plants.” That seems to me to be simple complacency; both in terms of the the business climate/evolution and in terms of the state’s progress in areas such as education, etc.

  2. Steven Davis

    The reason companies locate here is because of tax incentives. The reason companies stay here is because of cheap, non-union labor. Companies look at one thing, their bottom line.

  3. Phillip

    Interesting to read the first bullet point of Hitt’s remarks, which echo quite precisely the point that MA Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren was making in that now-viral video.

    On that last bullet point, however…Hitt may just be trying to sound like the impartial observer of political conditions, as I’m not sure if “third-party representation” was his phrase or yours, but just to make it clear in plain English: Labor unions are not a “third” party: their leadership representatives, at every level from national on down to local, are chosen democratically by the union members themselves. If a company’s workers choose to unionize, then there is no “outside” third party, and it’s pure classic paternalistic management-speak to talk about workers “not wanting to be told what to do.”

  4. Brad

    Yes, he did mean, and did say, besides the textile industry. He was speaking of specific decisions by specific companies based upon their satisfaction with SC labor — as opposed to economic megatrends, such as the shift of the textile industry overseas.

    I thought of Mack Trucks when he said that, but that’s not really a clear exception to Bobby’s rule. It was complicated, and the timeline involved the company changing hands.

    And Phillip — “third-party representation” was Bobby’s terminology. I just didn’t put it in quotes because I didn’t have the full quote, and besides, I agreed with the description. Not to start a whole separate argument.

  5. Kathryn Fenner

    but Brad, it isn’t a whole separate argument when it’s the standard applause line for the speakers this year at Columbia Rotary to gratuitously bash unions. Sure, maybe the NLRB overstepped on Boeing, maybe it didn’t—we don’t have enough evidence yet, so it’s just my team vs. your team on that one.

    Unions are the friend of the enlightened worker. Those workers who think that The Man is going to take care of them just out of the goodness of his heart…well, those are the same people who foolishly vote for Mark Sanford, Nikki Haley, et al.

    Gratuitously because as Hitt correctly points out, the local-hardheaded workers, for the most part, don’t want unions, just as they want to keep government hands off their Medicare. It’s like making state workers be polite–they already are, or the unemployed take drug tests–they don’t fail them in any significant number, or outlawing gay marriage, as if it had any chance of happening here in the foreseeable future. It’s gratuitous pandering to a certain element…..

  6. Brad

    It wasn’t gratuitous pandering. Bobby was stating political fact. As he said, whether there are unions are not is not up to him. He told Rotarians that it was up to their friends and neighbors, who, to Bobby’s eyes (and mine) don’t want unions.

    Classic propaganda statements such as “Unions are the friend of the enlightened worker” (I’ll bet that’s been set to music somewhere) aside, not wanting union representation doesn’t mean someone expects that “The Man is going to take care of them just out of the goodness of his heart.”

    I think most of them think of the management-labor equation pretty much the way I do: I’ll do this for you, and you will pay me X amount. Or vice versa.

    Yes, in South Carolina this is wedded to a perverse streak of extreme individualism that has held this state back for many generations, a political phenomenon that drives me nuts, because I want more for my state than what we get with this childish “I, me, my” nonsense. But in this case, I agree with those people.

    I was represented by a union once (as Danny Vermin would say, “Once!”). I don’t think I was even aware of it at the time. I worked as a copy clerk for The Commercial Appeal, a Guild paper, for several months in 1974 while I was still in school.

    A year or so later, out of the blue, I received a check for, I don’t know, about $120. A cover letter explained that a new Guild contract had been negotiated with the paper, and since I had worked there during the time period under the contract, I was receiving a retroactive raise.

    I was glad to have the money — it was close to a week’s pay for me back then — but I thought the fact that I got it to be the height of absurdity. I had worked for the paper for an agreed-upon amount, and had never had any beef about that. I had never complained, or requested an additional dime. My employer had lived up entirely to the agreement between us, as had I.

    And now, because some unknown (to me) third party (if you’ll excuse that, Phillip) had engaged in negotiations that had nothing to do with me — someone who was in no way acting as my appointed agent or upon my wishes — I got this money.

    It was pretty ridiculous.

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    You worked at a union job while you were still in school.College, I presume. You realize that a.) your awareness of the issues confronting union members or the actions of the union might have been less than complete, and b.) as a college student, you were not the average union member seeking a fair shake from the suits.

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time today on the phone with fellow members of my neighborhood association executive council. Two lawyers from megafirms, who are quite representative of the community. We had a president who is a professor of American Government for many years. You think we need help figuring out how to get things accomplished? (a misguided developer tried to suggest to city council or planning commission of some such that our neighborhood association had been hoodwinked by some other party because we were just simple folk, or such. I pointed out that we had more lawyers, professors, etc. on our board than he probably had working for him). There are plenty of neighborhoods who do not get treated nearly as well as we do, despite all efforts to the contrary.

    The fact that a college boy didn’t get the importance of a union, or that someone who had a key to the executive washroom most of his career…seriously?

    What if the “agreed-upon amount” was exploitative, but the best you could get? I’m not impressed with how the invisible hand of the market has been addressing the ever-widening distributional inequities of our economy. The rich get richer, while even the middle class get poorer while working harder.

    Workers of the world, unite!

  8. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    I would add Western Star Trucks Inc., which announced in 1998 that it would build a $25 million truck assembly plant in North Charleston and employ 400 workers. The plant closed in December 2000 less than a year after opening.

    Part of the issue is, unlike when a company announces it is coming to South Carolina, nobody puts out a press release when they pack up and leave.

  9. Brad

    There were no keys to the executive washroom! Although there were fewer than 10 guys on the 3rd floor, so it was pretty private. We even let guests use it — if they were, you know, leading presidential candidates.

    So, Kathryn — when the revolution comes, you want to be Lenin or Trotsky?

  10. Steven Davis

    A neighborhood/homeowners association headed by lawyers and college professors… that has to be worse than little old ladies on golf carts. I just wonder if their warnings require a PhD or lawyer to interpret.

  11. Kathryn Fenner

    It’s not a “homeowners association” –we live in the center of the big city in a densely occupied area, and our group is open to property owners (who may or may not live here) and residents (who may be tenants), and we have no authority–we are simply a group trying to ensure a livable environment where the city ordinances are fairly enforced and city services are properly engaged.

    We want people to want to live here, and not give up and move to the heavily restrictive covenanted suburbs, contributing to all the ills of sprawl.We need to keep it safe, clean and reasonably well-maintained, but as former city official Marc Mylott loved to point out,if all the ordinances were fully enforced, we wouldn’t have rainbows and unicorns, just minimally livable space.

    We never forget you have a choice.

  12. Mark Stewart

    I’d like to get back to what Bobby Hitt said. His comments have stuck in my craw.

    I would expect a very different world view from a Secretary of Commerce.

    He did say that he would like to see the day when South Carolinians are not just on the plant floor but are in the front office as well. The trouble with that statement is that it’s true today – it’s just that the native children who leave the state are the ones better positioned to make that climb.

    I really take issue with someone who is supposed to be a promoter of the state’s economy saying that our grandchildren will be working in the same factories. This type of statement doesn’t just assume that we will always be a cheap labor manufacturing economy, but also that things will only grow worse with the passage of time – as with the slow demise of the textile industry.

    Defeatism is a one way street.

    We need to position ourselves for incremental improvement. We got some of that from the technology and processes of the leading edges of the textile industry. Some manufacturers pushed upward on the technology curve even while most let their operations depreciate into the lowest cost scenario. The leading edges of the textile industry have fostered an explosion of other types of industeries that have built upon textile’s best practices. But that’s only a small subset.

    We need to build upon our strenghts here in this state. That means doing more than just the same thing over and over again. We also need to push forward. We need to internalize the idea that the future will be a better, brighter place and make investments each day in the things that will propel us forward economically and socially.

  13. Brad

    And Mark, I promise to consider you to be my Commerce Secretary.

    Or some other key role…

    I don’t want to overcommit myself here. That’s how pols get in trouble…

  14. Jeff Morrell

    “Most people in South Carolina don’t want to be told what to do by anyone other than the one that pays them.”

    My union has never told me or my co-workers “what to do”. They help us to have a voice with our employer. Having representation for contract negotiations is not too far akin having a lawyer represent you in legal proceedings.

  15. Brad

    Exactly, Jeff. I almost used the lawyer analogy myself. An empouter/employee relationship that requires, from the outset, such an intermediary is a relationship based in distrust and assumed conflict. That is a lousy working environment, and I would not want to participate in it either as employee or employer…

  16. Steven Davis

    Herb, do you really want all the neighbors to hate you that much? Remember that most of what you’re up against will be grandfathered into the association rules and regulations. That neighbor is still going to be able to park his boat in his driveway.

  17. Kathryn Fenner

    Are you in the City of Columbia? If so, the Columbia Council of Neighborhoods (link on will be glad to help. They may be glad to help anyway…

    If that doesn’t work, email Brad so he can put us together through email and I’ll see what else I can do. Professor John Stucker in the USC Political Science Department was our resuscitator. His contact info should be there.

  18. Kathryn Fenner

    @BRad–Speaking as a lawyer: using a lawyer from the outset is the best policy in so many unequal relationships–like the accused vs the State, weaker spouse vs. powerful one….All you peoples: don’t talk to cops if you are a suspect. Just repeat that you want your lawyer.

  19. Brad

    Kathryn, you’re missing the point (possibly because lawyers think in terms of the adversarial paradigm). Between spouses, you bring in a lawyer when there is conflict — severe, edge-of-breakup conflict. Not from the very beginning. Not for every kitchen table discussion, or any other of the thousands of little negotiations that go on between married people — or people who work together — on a daily basis.

    A relationship that needed that should not be.

  20. Steven Davis

    Kathryn – Is that your PSA for the SC Bar Association? Maybe you could advertise that slogan on the side of buses and the city police cars.

  21. Kathryn Fenner

    Watch da video.

    See, I have recently reflected on how I reached agreements with employers about scope of work– hours, how work would be credited in terms of job evaluation (shouldn’t be my fault if the partner writes off hours for his own reasons) and such–that were quickly forgotten in the event.A written contract would have been terribly unusual in the setting, and who’s going to insist upfront, even a lawyer, so in a little-ole-me vs. da Man contest, I stayed late, etc. Now, *I’m* quite empowered, and don’t really need a job, but how many workers can say that?

    A prenup is also not a bad idea–flushes out the conflicts upfront–sort of like premarital counseling ought to. One party (the woman usually) usually gives up a lot more than the other in a marriage, and if the parties agreed upfront on the bust-up payout, things would run far more smoothly all the way around.

    You’d still be at The State if there were a union and you were a member. Seniority ought to count for something.

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