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Nine former and current employees of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southern California have sued the company, alleging it bilked workers out of at least $200 million in wages over the past four years. The three class action lawsuits claim the company violated state labor laws by failing to pay proper wages, violated the law against unfair business practices, retaliated against those who tried to stop the practice and illegally modified employee time records. The lawsuits are pending in California’s San Bernadino County Superior Court. A spokesman for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southern California, which owns the sales center in Rancho Cucamonga, denied the claims. “We provide our employees with excellent compensation package in the marketplace,” spokesman Bob Phillips told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. “We’re committed to creating an environment in the workplace where everyone is respected and valued and is compensated accordingly.” The lawsuits name as defendants Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., of Atlanta, its California subsidiaries and soft drink maker Coca-Cola Co., which is a minority owner of Coca-Cola Enterprises. A call left after hours Sunday with Coca-Cola in Atlanta was not immediately returned. Peter Santilli, a former district sales manager at a Coca-Cola Bottling Co. sales center in Rancho Cucamonga, said he was fired after complaining that the company shaved thousands of dollars in overtime wages from the paychecks of hourly employees. Santilli alleges that he and other managers were expected to manipulate an electronic timekeeping system and edit out overtime hours worked by merchandisers, who typically earn $8 per hour restocking store shelves with Coca-Cola products. “I refused to do it,” Santilli said. Other plaintiffs in the lawsuits claim they worked 11-hour days, only to be talked out of claiming overtime by company managers. “Merchandisers are constantly exposed to hostility, threats and commands from their supervisors who cause them to compensate for the lack of a sufficient numbers of employees to complete the required work without working overtime,” according to one lawsuit. “We’d get harassed,” said Anthony Solis, 26, who worked as a merchandiser for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. from November 1997 to May 1998. “They’d tell me, ‘I can send my mom out there and she’d have it done in eight hours. We need people who can do that.’ “ Last year, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. paid $20.2 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of salaried account managers and merchandisers, who had alleged the company unlawfully failed to pay them overtime wages. There are at least two similar lawsuits pending in state courts against Pepsi, Coca-Cola’s chief rival in the soft drink industry. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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