Shanna Tippen was a minimum wage worker at the Days Inn and Suites in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. In February, Chico Harlan wrote about her in The Washington Post, The 25-Cent Raise: What Life Is Like After a Minimum Wage Increase. It discussed how the recent increase in the Arkansas minimum wage from $7.25 to $7.50 was still a big deal for Tippen, even though she still lives below the poverty line as she did before. But Tippen doesn’t have that job anymore.
In that same article, Tippen’s boss — the general manager of the Days Inn, Herry Patel — had been quoted. He’s a real charmer. He said, “[The referendum] was bad. Bad for Arkansas. Everybody wants free money in Pine Bluff.” This is a pretty standard conservative mantra, “I have mine and all of you are a bunch of moochers!” Remember: this is a 3.4% raise — the first one that workers in Arkansas have received since 2009. Adjusted for inflation, employees have seen a 5.4% decrease in wages during this time. I would like to officially welcome Mr Patel into that esteemed group of people who make me wish there was a god so that he could burn for eternity in hell.
Chico Harlan wrote a followup article on Monday, After a Story Is Published, a Minimum Wage Worker Loses Her Job. It seems that Herry “John Galt” Patel was none too happy with how the first article was shaping up. Perhaps his wages should be lowered. You would think that a general manager at a hotel chain would know that if you talk to reporters, they will write about it. It has something to do with their job description, just like the description for “Days Inn General Manager” apparently includes key job elements like “keeping wages below the poverty rate” and “being a jerk to everyone” and “laughing maniacally while crushing small woodland creates with the heal of your boot.”
After the article came out, Patel called The Washington Post to complain about his being quoted in the paper. Then he tracked down Tippen and fired her. According to Tippen, “He said I was stupid and dumb for talking to [The Post]. He cussed me and asked me why you wrote the article. I said, ‘Because he’s a reporter; that’s what he does.’ He said it was wrong for me to talk to you.” The whole story is tragicomic: tragic for Tippen and farce for Patel, who has shown himself to not only be a vile human being but an idiot as well.
For example, Patel was the one who recommended that Harlan interview Tippen in the first place. But he apparently had second thoughts later — calling Harlan and threatening to sue if the article was published. I assume his concern was not so much his own horrible comments but the fact that Tippen was so open about her checkered past. Of course, no one really would have noticed before; now it’s a much bigger story, “Hotel manager a total jerk: fires minimum wage employee for talking to the press.”
Digby pointed out the important point in all of this, “As ‘at will’ employees, [workers] only have freedom of speech in the abstract.” This is one of the most exasperating things about libertarians and more generally conservatives: they think that the only thing that limits freedom is the government. This is completely untrue, and in the United States the opposite is more often the case. For example, most people are far more likely to have their privacy invaded by a private company, not the government. But more specifically, it doesn’t matter if you have the “right” to say anything if that means you won’t be able to find a job. The economy is asymmetrical. The poor do not have equal political rights. That goes all the way down to the right to vote where it is far more cumbersome and costly for a poor person to vote.
We do not live in a democracy. And those who claim that they just want everyone to be equal (for example, those pushing the flat tax) are just pushing for the ossification of the status quo. People don’t start out equal. Our society does almost everything it can to make sure that those who start ahead are given every advantage along the way. And then once the rich have all the money and power, it is time for “equality of opportunity.” It’s disgusting.