Of all the reasons someone might get fired, trash-can diving seems peculiar. That's what Coulson Loptmann, a 21-year-old former Starbucks barista, claims happened, as he says he was busted for eating a sandwich from the trash, according to The Stranger blog.
Loptmann told the blog that he made $9.94 an hour for 23 to 32 hours a week and brought in another $30 in tips -- at most $348 before taxes -- and that he relied on food stamps to make ends meet. He said that he asked for more hours but didn't receive them and was fired because Starbucks considered taking the sandwich from the trash "stealing."
A Starbucks spokesperson told AOL Jobs that Loptmann was fired not just for eating food tossed because it was out of date, but for a history of "documented performance issues," which he declined to specify.
The situation for fast food workers can be tough. They have little chance for advancement and 70 percent earn between $7.26 and $10.09 an hour. Seventy percent of them are older than 20 and are not teenagers, and a quarter of adults in fast food have children.
"Not only are wages low in these industries, but you compound it with the fact that you're not even getting full time hours and that contributes to the very high poverty rates that these workers experience," said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, attorney at the National Employment Law Project, in an interview with AOL Jobs. Many of the workers are forced into such government programs as food stamps and subsidized housing.
It's a tough-sounding story when labor, religious, and social welfare groups are backing fast food worker strikes scheduled in a planned 50 cites on August 29.
Loptmann, who didn't return phone calls from AOL Jobs, told The Stranger that he barely had money to spend on lunch, was on a 7-hour shift, and "hadn't eaten all day." He claimed that he was fired about a week afterward because the company considered taking one of the sandwiches "stealing."
"Normally we wouldn't discuss a former partner's employment history but there are things being inaccurately portrayed," said Starbucks spokesperson Zach Hutson said in an interview with AOL Jobs. "Our policy is for food safety reasons that our partners should not consume products that have expired. Although we take this policy seriously, in general a partner would not be let go for violating it. But this partner had documented performance issues over the past year including failing to show up for shifts on time when scheduled."
When asked for additional details like how many problems Loptmann allegedly had or their nature, Hutson said, "I can't go into specifics."
Starbucks has a good reputation as an employer, according to Fortune Magazine. The publication consistently ranks it as one of the 100 best companies to work for.
According to Hutson, Starbucks offers subsidized health insurance to all employees who work at least 20 hours a week. All employees get stock no matter how many hours, and there is a tuition reimbursement program.
But a big majority of baristas are either currently students or looking to be students, according to the company, and so there could be a different perception of needs. Furthermore, as Hutson said, employees can ask for more hours but managers "give preference to partners that show up on-time for their shifts."
All that said, Starbucks is not a stranger to controversy. A group of baristas in New York sued the company but lost over keeping their tips and not sharing them with managers. One disabled man alleged that Starbucks wouldn't hire him because of his condition. One barista alleged that Starbucks fired her for being too old. And some fast food chains pay $12 an hour or more, which is significantly higher than the $8.77 per hour that company baristas make, according to career site Glassdoor .