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Coulson Loptmann says he was hungry when he took a sandwich out of the trash at Starbucks. He was later fired. (AP)

Starbucks barista says he was fired for taking thrown-out sandwich

Coulson Loptmann, 21, moved to Seattle from California a little over a year ago to transfer to the University of Washington.

His credits didn't quite work out right, so he decided to work as a barista for a couple years and wait to be eligible for in-state tuition.

Loptmann was fired from his barista job at the 4th & Seneca Seattle Starbucks last week because he ate a sandwich out of the trash.

It all started when he and some coworkers were disposing of breakfast sandwiches based on expiration dates.

"They were tossed in the trash and I hadn't eaten and I was hungry. Because they were in the little plastic bags, I was like 'Oh, I'll just grab it out of the trash and I'll cook it and eat it.'"

A few days later, his manager sat him down.

"She said that someone had told her about it and she contacted (Human Resources) and she told me that according to them, it was considered stealing and I was going to be terminated for that."

Now Starbucks told The Stranger that this is a violation of company policy, but it's unusual for a partner to be terminated for it. It's most likely the result of ongoing performance problems.

But Loptmann says he didn't have a history of bad performance reviews, so this came as a shock.

"I think I was working pretty good. I had no more than normal issues with co-workers ... In fact, I was actually considered one of the stronger baristas and I would help the new baristas whenever they had an issue."

Loptmann says he was promised full-time work when he started at Starbucks, but was only getting, on average, 23 hours a week. It's not enough to support himself.

"To be honest, I might just end up on the streets because I lost my job. Rent is due on the first and I don't have money. It happens, but I don't have a kid to feed and people just need to realize this is not unique. This happens all the time."

Loptmann says the way he was treated at Starbucks inspired him to participate in Thursday's fast food protests for higher wages. Low-wage workers in 35 cities across the country are expected to protest major restaurant chains.

"I think there needs to be a living wage, and that's what they need to pay because $9.94 is not enough. Even if I was working a full 40 hours a week, I'd still qualify for food stamps."

Loptmann believes the minimum wage needs to be raised.

"Minimum wage was made to be a liveable wage, not one where you can be super comfortable and run around in a Porsche, but it should be enough where you can get by. I can't even image what it would be like if I had a son or a daughter. It would be impossible."

Loptmann is also hoping health insurance at Starbucks will become more affordable for the average employee, and there will not be retaliation against baristas who choose to join Thursday's protests.

"I really think that we need to get paid more and be treated like people, not faceless blanks who make breakfast sandwiches, or drinks, or food."

Libby Denkmann, Ron & Don Show Producer
Libby Denkmann is producer of KIRO Radio's The Ron & Don Show (weekdays 3-7). Libby is always on the run - literally.
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