A company that hires stevedores to work at the Port of Charleston is facing a proposed class-action lawsuit over allegations that it fails to pay overtime wages to employees, months after settling a similar case in federal court.
Nearly two dozen current and former employees of SSA Cooper filed a lawsuit on Friday claiming the stevedoring company violates federal labor laws by failing to pay them 1½ times their regular pay for working beyond 40 hours per week.
The workers say the company has misclassified them as executives who are exempt from overtime pay "to save on labor costs and make higher profits," according to court documents.
"These stevedores sometimes work 75 hours a week in the heat and the cold and in the hull of ships," said Marybeth Mullaney, a Mount Pleasant lawyer representing the workers. "In my opinion, I think these guys are being exploited."
SSA Cooper has not filed a response to the allegations. A spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
The company — a joint partnership between SSA Marine and Cooper/T. Smith, which has operations at seaports nationwide — is one of three companies hired by shipping lines to provide stevedores at the Port of Charleston. Those stevedores supervise International Longshoremen's Association workers who load and unload ships, secure cargo containers and drive vehicles at the port's terminals.
SSA Cooper settled a separate class-action lawsuit filed last year by Charleston area stevedores, agreeing in December to pay $694,553 to 25 workers and Mullaney, who represented them in the case.
Mullaney said that while SSA Cooper paid the settlement in last year's case, the company did not change its policies and continued to withhold overtime pay to workers.
The most recent lawsuit could have national implications because one of the stevedores worked at SSA Cooper's sites in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. While the rest of the stevedores are from the Charleston area, Mullaney said she might seek to include SSA Cooper employees from other parts of the country in the class action "depending on how the litigation proceeds." A final decision would be up to a judge, she said.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Charleston. No hearing dates have been scheduled.