The North Blake Street area of Pine Bluff is home to many fast food restaurants, convenience stores and other minimum wage employers. (Russ Scalf for The Washington Post)
Shanna Tippen was another hourly worker at the bottom of the nation’s economy, looking forward to a 25-cent bump in the Arkansas minimum wage that would make it easier for her to buy diapers for her grandson.When I wrote about her in The Post last month, she said the minimum wage hike would bring her a bit of financial relief, but it wouldn’t lift her above the poverty line.
She called me the other day to say she didn’t get to enjoy the 25-cent hike for long. After the story came out, she says she was fired from her job for talking to the Post.
I spend a lot of time writing about people at the low end of the economy, and I see up close how narrowly they get by day-to-day. In this case, writing about Tippen’s plight may have made her situation worse.
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.”
(Several hours after this story was published, Patel called the Post and contested Tippen’s version of events. He said that Tippen was not fired, and instead walked out on the job after a disagreement. Patel said that he’d approached Tippen to ask about her past criminal record, which was described in the original Feb. 17 article.
Patel said he would not rehire Tippen because of the way she’d spoken to him during the dispute. “She walked out herself,” Patel said. “I didn’t fire her.”
Tippen, in a conversation Monday evening, reaffirmed her version of events. She said that Patel never questioned her about her criminal record and that the two spoke heatedly only after she was fired.)
Initially, 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.
“As of now, I’m looking for any kind of job at all,” she said. “Flipping burgers. Cleaning. Anything. It doesn’t matter.”
Wyndham Worldwide, which operates the Days Inn brand, said in a statement that “while we do not control or oversee staffing decisions at our franchised locations, we do require that each independently owned and operated hotel comply with all local, state and federal laws, especially as it relates to employment practices. While we can’t speak to the specifics of this or any particular situation at a franchised location, please know that ours is an organization which values and respects the contributions of all associates and that we encourage each of our franchisees to do the same.”
Patel introduced Tippen to me. During a trip to Pine Bluff, Ark., in mid-January, I went to numerous businesses across town and found Patel in the hotel lobby and introduced myself. There, I interviewed him for several minutes. Patel then suggested I speak with Tippen, who was cleaning up the continental breakfast bar. I interviewed her during her work shift, during a slow afternoon as she manned the front desk.
Several days later, after I’d spent additional time with Tippen, Patel called me and threatened to sue if an article was published. Tippen, though, felt it was important to tell her story; she said many people shared her experience earning the minimum, and she had nothing negative to say about her employer.