Until last Friday, Talia Jane worked at Yelp’s food delivery company EAT24, where she was a customer service representative dealing with the comments and complaints of people who’d ordered through the app. But on that day, Talia Jane also published an open letter to the company’s CEO pointing out that she couldn’t continue living in the San Francisco/Bay Area on the wages she was being paid. Eight bucks an hour, she reasoned, isn’t enough to live on when your bills include gas, food, and lodging (you know, all the stuff that ensures you’ll stay well enough to continue working at Yelp). Two hours after the letter went up, Jane was cut off from her work email and removed from her position…even before her manager knew what had happened. Grub Street is calling this a “PR bind” (a very generous way of putting it), but it’s about to be much more. Especially because, as Jane states in her letter, she sometimes had so little to eat that the only thing she’d have for dinner is a liter of water and sleep.
The open letter, published on Medium, details how difficult it is to survive at a company that promises so much (snacks! benefits!), but offers so little:
I haven’t bought groceries since I started this job. Not because I’m lazy, but because I got this ten pound bag of rice before I moved here and my meals at home (including the one I’m having as I write this) consist, by and large, of that. Because I can’t afford to buy groceries. Bread is a luxury to me, even though you’ve got a whole fridge full of it on the 8th floor. But we’re not allowed to take any of that home because it’s for at-work eating. Of which I do a lot. Because 80 percent of my income goes to paying my rent. Isn’t that ironic? Your employee for your food delivery app that you spent $300 million to buy can’t afford to buy food. That’s gotta be a little ironic, right?
That’s bleak, but it gets bleaker:
Did I tell you about how I got stuck in the east bay because my credit card, which amazingly allows cash withdrawals, kept getting declined and I didn’t have enough money on my BART Clipper card to get to work? Did I tell you that my manager, with full concern and sympathy for my situation, suggested I just drive through FastTrak and get a $35 ticket for it that I could pay at a later time, just so I could get to work? Did I tell you that an employee at CVS overheard my phone call with my manager and then gave me, straight from his wallet, the six dollars I needed to drive into work? Do you think CVS pays more than Yelp? I worked a job similar to one at CVS. A manager spends half an hour training you on the cash register, you watch a video, maybe take a brief quiz, and you’re fully trained to do the entire job. Did you know that after getting hired back in August, I’m still being trained for the same position I’ve got? But Marcus at CVS has six dollars in his wallet, and I’m picking up coins on the street trying to figure out how I’ll be able to pay him back.
And then it gets really sad, with Jane pointing out how working at Yelp (a job she likely took out of necessity) is actually costing her more than it’s helping.
Will you pay my phone bill for me? I just got a text from T-Mobile telling me my bill is due. I got paid yesterday ($733.24, bi-weekly) but I have to save as much of that as possible to pay my rent ($1245) for my apartment that’s 30 miles away from work because it was the cheapest place I could find that had access to the train, which costs me $5.65 one way to get to work. That’s $11.30 a day, by the way. I make $8.15 an hour after taxes. I also have to pay my gas and electric bill. Last month it was $120. According to the infograph on PG&E’s website, that cost was because I used my heater. I’ve since stopped using my heater. Have you ever slept fully clothed under several blankets just so you don’t get a cold and have to miss work? Have you ever drank a liter of water before going to bed so you could fall asleep without waking up a few hours later with stomach pains because the last time you ate was at work? I woke up today with stomach pains. I made myself a bowl of rice.
As someone who lives in San Francisco, I can safely tell you that $1,245 a month–even with roommates–isn’t an uncommon price tag on an apartment. It’s true that Jane’s letter, the entirety of which you can read here, is cutting, but it also paints an important picture of a young employee who needs help and isn’t being offered any. And while the letter would have gone viral regardless, it’s gone even bigger now since Jane has been fired from Yelp. According to Quartz, Jane’s firing is ironic: Yelp outwardly agrees with many of her statements–the company’s even working on moving some operations to areas where the cost of living is lower and and offering a competitive wage there–but, according to Jane, couldn’t continue employing her due to her “violation of Yelp’s terms and conditions.”
Yelp’s CEO has taken to Twitter to assure the public that he was not part of Jane’s firing and that, while no one will comment on exactly why she was let go, it certainly wasn’t due to her letter.
3/5 I've not been personally involved in Talia being let go and it was not because she posted a Medium letter directed at me.— Jeremy Stoppelman (@jeremys) February 20, 2016
“I found out before my manager did. About two hours after I posted the letter, my phone vibrated but didn’t have a notification—my mailbox does this sometimes, I don’t know why, so I checked my inbox for all my linked email accounts…That’s when I knew, because they terminate all your access to the system before you come into work. So I called my manager and told him I got fired. He didn’t know what I was talking about and said he’d call me back after he looked into it. He called me back a few minutes later and told me someone from HR was there with him.”
And she’s got a few words for people who are calling her “entitled” for asking for a living wage:
According to her Twitter, Jane hasn’t received termination papers because HR hasn’t decided the “real reason” she’s being fired. In the meantime, the letter keeps gaining more and more attention.