ROAD WOES Growing congestion threatens to choke port traffic, commerce (copy)

Truckers move through the gates at the Port of Charleston's Wando Welch Terminal in this file photo. While trucking firms are being sued in California for alleged wage violations, the head of South Carolina's trucking association says labor relations in the Palmetto State are good. File

While California trucking firms are being sued for allegedly misclassifying workers and violating federal wage laws, the head of a South Carolina trade group that advocates for commercial drivers says the Palmetto State is largely free of such abuses.

"My perspective is that the situation here in South Carolina and Charleston is not nearly the same as what's happening on the West Coast," said Rick Todd, president of the South Carolina Trucking Association.

"The West Coast situation is more political than legal," Todd said of the lawsuits, which were filed by the Los Angeles City Attorney, an elected official, and not the truckers themselves. "California's government agencies, politicians and judges are very liberal ... so they have an incentive for finding independent contractors are misclassified."

Todd also said a December vote by drivers at North Charleston's CMC Logistics to join the Teamsters union doesn't represent the attitude of most South Carolina truckers. Those drivers made claims similar to those in the California lawsuits, alleging CMC misclassified them as independent contractors rather than employees to cut their pay.

"South Carolina enjoys a better labor-management relationship and environment than the West Coast," Todd said. "Companies treat employees and independent contractors well — certainly those that pull their weight."

He adds that recent rate increases enacted by trucking firms serving the Port of Charleston and other sites are making their way into truckers' pay, "and this only helps drivers."

On the move

A German-based maker of prop shafts for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles is getting ready to move into its new home at the Charleston Trade Center near Summerville.

IFA, formerly IFA Rotorion, said its 234,000-square-foot campus is complete and a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held this week. The new manufacturing site will let IFA add constant-velocity joints to its production line. It also has offices and an area for distribution of its products. The company expects to add about 120 jobs.

IFA, which supplies parts for Volvo Cars and BMW, has had a presence since 2003 in North Charleston, where it assembles about 2 million parts for the North American automotive market.

Plugging in

It's no secret that South Carolina's automakers are going electric, but BMW's manufacturing campus in Spartanburg County has made it official with a notification to the federal Foreign Trade Zones Board.

The Upstate plant is located entirely within a Foreign Trade Zone. That means the vehicles and parts that BMW either exports from or imports to its Upstate site are exempt from most customs fees until they are moved out of the zone and into the U.S. market. As part of that agreement, the German automaker must get approval from the federal board for any new manufacturing processes.

BMW already has approval to build gasoline- and diesel-powered motor vehicles. Late last month, BMW requested approval to start building hybrid vehicles in Greer. The board is accepting public comments on the proposal through April 17, at which time it is expected to approve the request.

Separately, BMW said last week it is hiring production and logistics workers for the Spartanburg County site, aiming to add 1,000 employees to its 10,000-person workforce by 2021. Those interested can apply online at www.mau.com/bmwjobs.

The new positions are part of a $600 million expansion at the South Carolina plant, which can build up to 1,400 X-model SUVs per day.

Fantastic voyage

The expanded Panama Canal — the impetus behind more than $2 billion worth of improvements at the Port of Charleston to lure big container ships — marked another milestone earlier this month.

When the MSC Caterina sailed through the waterway on March 2, it became the 3,000th vessel to transit the world-famous shortcut since its expansion was completed in June 2016. The 984-foot-long ship is capable of carrying 9,000  containers of cargo. It was one of nine vessels the Panama Canal hosted that day.

About 53 percent of the 3,000 ships that have transited the expanded canal have been container vessels. Other ships include liquefied petroleum gas and liquefied natural gas carriers, dry and liquid bulk carriers, car carriers and cruise ships.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_