RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. (AP) _ Nine former and current Coca-Cola employees have sued the soft drink company, alleging it bilked workers out of at least $200 million in wages over the past four years.
The three class-action lawsuits also claim that Atlanta-based Coke and its California subsidiaries retaliated against those who tried to stop the practice.
The suits are pending in Superior Court.
Peter Santilli, a former district sales manager at a Coca-Cola 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 its 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 Coke products.
Other plaintiffs in the lawsuits claim they worked 11-hour days, only to be talked out of claiming overtime by company managers.
``We'd get harassed,'' said Anthony Solis, 26, who worked as a Coca-Cola merchandiser 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.'''
A spokesman for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southern California, which owns the sales center, 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.''
Last year, Coke paid $20.2 million to settle a class-action suit 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 bottling industry.