Serfdom, 21st-century style: Woman fired for talking to reporter about living on minimum wage

Motel worker still hasn't found a new job after her boss retaliated against her

Published March 30, 2015 6:38PM (EDT)

                (iStockphoto/Alexey Stiop)
(iStockphoto/Alexey Stiop)

Feeling all hunky-dory about the world? This should correct that: Shanna Tippen, a grandmother from Arkansas, says that she's been fired from her motel job for speaking to a Washington Post reporter about what it's like to live on the minimum wage.

Here's the backstory: Last month, Post reporter Chico Harlan published a feature on how life changed for Arkansas workers after the state's minimum wage increased from $7.25 an hour to $7.50 per hour, part of a gradual uptick toward an $8.50 minimum by 2017. While Tippen told Harlan that the 25-cent hourly boost would help her buy diapers for her grandson, the increase still left her $200 short on her monthly bills. The ultimate impact? "Not much difference," Tippen said.

After the Post ran Harlan's story, Herry Patel, the manager of the Days Inn where Tippen worked, angrily fired her. Harlan explains:

Tippen says she was fired by her boss, hotel manager Herry Patel. Earlier that day, Patel had called the Post to express frustration that he had been quoted giving his opinion about the minimum wage hike. (He objected to it.)

It was soon after, Tippen says, that Patel found her in the lobby and fired her.

“He said I was stupid and dumb for talking to [the Post],” Tippen said. “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.'"

A man who sounded like Patel, reached recently at the Days Inn, declined to comment in several separate phone calls. On one call, the man said he’d never met Herry Patel and did not know who he was. On another call, he threatened to call the police if “you keep bothering us.”

Tippen was uncertain whether she wanted to publicly share the story of her firing, but she decided to because she feels increasingly desperate. She lived paycheck-to-paycheck during her two-plus years at the Days Inn, and now, she and her family are living off a recent tax refund check that won’t last past March. Tippen says she’s looking for another job but hasn’t found one yet.

Despite Patel's indignation over Tippen's interview, Harlan reports that Patel -- who opposed Arkansas' minimum wage increase -- had suggested that he speak with Tippen for his original story. But after Harlan says he "spent additional time with Tippen," learning what life on the minimum wage was like, Patel threatened a lawsuit if Harlan published the story.

The irony: Harlan reports that Tippen had nary a cross word to say about her boss. But Patel couldn't abide a story that laid bare the challenges confronted by those who live on the economic margins. In retaliation, he pushed Tippen further toward the edge.

By Luke Brinker

MORE FROM Luke Brinker

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Arkansas Days Inn Labor Low Wage Minimum Wage Minimum Wage Workers Washington Post