I published this letter to Jeremy Stoppelman, the CEO of Yelp, on Medium late Friday afternoon. Within 2 hours, I'd lost my job.
When I was a kid, back in the 90s when Spice Girls and owning a pager were #goals, I dreamed of having a car and a credit card and my own apartment. I told my 8 year old self, This is what it means to be an adult.
Now, seventeen years later, I have those things. But boy did I not anticipate a decade and a half ago that a car and a credit card and an apartment would all be symbols of stress, not success.
I left college, having majored in English literature, with a dream to work in media. It was either that or go to law school. Or become a teacher. But I didn’t want to become a cliché or drown in student loans, see. I also desperately needed to leave where I was living — I could get into the details of why, but to sum up: I wanted to die every single day of my life and it took me several years to realize it was because of the environment I was in. So, I picked the next best place: somewhere close to my dad, since we’ve never gotten to have much of a relationship and I like the weather up here. I found a job (I was hired the same day as my interview, in fact) and I put a bunch of debt on a shiny new credit card to afford the move.
Coming out of college without much more than freelancing and tutoring under my belt, I felt it was fair that I start out working in the customer support section of Yelp/Eat24 before I’d be qualified to transfer to media. Then, after I had moved and got firmly stuck in this apartment with this debt, I was told I’d have to work in support for an entire year before I would be able to move to a different department. A whole year answering calls and talking to customers just for the hope that someday I’d be able to make memes and twitter jokes about food. If you follow me on Twitter, which you don’t, you’d know that these are things I already do. But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s get back to the situation at hand, shall we?
So here I am, 25 years old, balancing all sorts of debt and trying to pave a life for myself that doesn’t involve crying in the bathtub every week. Every single one of my coworkers is struggling. They’re taking side jobs, they’re living at home. One of them started a GoFundMe because she couldn’t pay her rent. She ended up leaving the company and moving east, somewhere the minimum wage could double as a living wage. Another wrote on those neat whiteboards we’ve got on every floor begging for help because he was bound to be homeless in two weeks. Fortunately, someone helped him out. At least, I think they did. I actually haven’t seen him in the past few months. Do you think he’s okay? Another guy who got hired, and ultimately let go, was undoubtedly homeless. He brought a big bag with him and stocked up on all those snacks you make sure are on every floor (except on the weekends when the customer support team is working, because we’re what makes Eat24 24-hours, 7 days a week, but the team who comes to stock up those snacks in the early hours during my shift are only there Mondays through Fridays, excluding holidays. They get holidays and weekends off! Can you imagine?). By and large, our floor pummels through those snacks the fastest and has to roam other floors to find something to eat. Is it because we’re gluttons? Maybe. If you starve a pack of wolves and toss them a single steak, will they rip each other to shreds fighting over it? Definitely.
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?
Let’s talk about those benefits, though. They’re great. I’ve got vision, dental, the normal health insurance stuff — and as far as I can tell, I don’t have to pay for any of it! Except the copays. $20 to see a doctor or get an eye exam or see a therapist or get medication. Twenty bucks each is pretty neat, if spending twenty dollars didn’t determine whether or not you could afford to get to work the next week.
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.
Speaking of that whole training thing, do you know what the average retention rate of your lowest employees (like myself) are? Because I haven’t been here very long, but it seems like every week the faces change. Do you think it’s because the pay your company offers is designed to attract young people with no responsibilities, sort of like the CIA? Except these people don’t even throw away their trash, because they still live at home and this is their very first job and they don’t have to take an aptitude test like at the CIA. Do you know how many cash coupons I used to give out before I was properly trained? In one month, I gave out over $600 to customers for a variety of issues. Now, since getting more training, I’ve given out about $15 in the past three months because I’ve been able to de-escalate messed up situations using just my customer service skills. Do you think that’s coincidence? Or is the goal to have these free bleeders who throw money at angry customers to calm them down set the standard for the whole company? Do you think there’s any point in training a customer service agent to learn and employ customer service skills? Or is it better to attract those first-time employees with their poor habits and lack of work ethic with the same wage part-time employees at See’s Candies make for standing by the door in a stupid outfit and handing out free chocolate? Do you think those free chocolates cost $600 a month per employee? Have you ever seen an angry See’s Candies customer? You know what I could do with $600 extra a month? For starters, I probably wouldn’t have to take money from Marcus at CVS just to get to work.
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 ($1,245) for my apartment that’s 40 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.
Look, I’ll make you a deal. You don’t have to pay my phone bill. I’ll just disconnect my phone. And I’ll disconnect my home internet, too, even though it’s the only way I can do work for my freelance gig that I haven’t been able to do since I moved here because I’m constantly too stressed to focus on anything but going to sleep as soon as I’m not at work. Should I sell my car? It’s not my car, actually, it’s my grandpa’s. But the back left tire is flat and the front right headlight is out and the registration is due to be renewed in April and I already know I can’t afford any of that. I haven’t even gotten an oil change since I started this job (in August). But maybe I could find someone on Craigslist who won’t mind all of that because they’ll look at the dark circles under my eyes and realize I need the cash more than they do.
How about this: instead of telling you about all the ways I’m withering away from putting my all into a company that doesn’t have my back, I offer some solutions. I emailed Mike, Eat24’s CEO, about a few ideas to give back to our community for the holidays. He, along with someone named Patty, politely turned them down. But maybe you could repurpose them?
Originally, I suggested that Eat24/Yelp employees volunteer at local soup kitchens and food banks to give back to our Bay Area community (I see on your Twitter that you care deeply about the homeless epidemic in our city) while also helping the different departments meet and mingle. Maybe instead, you can help set up something to allow Eat24/Yelp employees to get food from local food banks and soup kitchens? I’m pretty proficient at rice, but some hot soup would sure make up for not being able to afford to use my heater.
Originally, I suggested that Eat24 offer a matching donation with customers where they can choose a donation amount during checkout and Eat24/Yelp would match it and donate those profits to a national food program. Maybe instead, you can let customers choose a donation amount during checkout and divide those proceeds among your employees who spend more than 60% of their income on rent? The ideal percent is 30%. As I said, I spend 80%. What do you spend 80% of your income on? I hear your net worth is somewhere between $111 million and $222 million. That’s a whole lotta rice.
Originally, I suggested that Eat24 offer special coupon codes where half of the code’s value ($1) goes to charity. Maybe instead, you can give half the code’s value ($1) to helping employees who live across the bay pay their transit fares? Mine are $226 monthly. According to this website, you’ve got a pretty nice house in the East Bay. Have you ever been stranded inside a CVS because you can’t afford to get to work? How much do you pay your gardeners to keep that lawn and lovely backyard looking so neat?
I did notice — and maybe this was just a fluke — that Yelp has stopped stocking up on those awful flavored coconut waters. Was that Mike’s suggestion? Because I did include, half-facetiously, in that email he and Patty so politely rejected that Yelp could save about $24,000 in two months if the company stopped restocking flavored coconut waters since no one drinks them (because they taste like the bitter remorse of accepting a job that can’t pay a living wage and everyone kept falling over into the fetal position and hyperventilating about their life’s worth. It really cut into the productivity that all those new hires are so prolific at avoiding). I wonder what it would be like if I made $24,000 more annually. I could probably get the headlight fixed on my car. And the flat tire. And maybe even get the oil change and renewed registration — but I don’t want to dream too extravagantly. Maybe you could cut out all the coconut waters altogether? You could probably cut back on a lot of the drinks and snacks that are stocked on every single floor. I mean, I could handle losing out on pistachio nuts if I was getting paid enough to afford groceries. No one really eats the pistachios anyway — have you ever tried answering the phone fifty times an hour while eating pistachios? Those hard shells really get in the way of talking to hundreds of customers and restaurants a day.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. I know they’re not worth your time — did you know that the average American earns enough money that the time they would spend picking up a penny costs more than the penny’s worth? I pick up every penny I see, which I think explains why sharing these thoughts is worth my time, even if it’s not worth yours.
Your Friend In Food,
Two hours after this post was published, I was officially let go from the company; I was notified via a phone call with HR about half an hour later. This was entirely unplanned (but I guess not completely unexpected?) but any help until I find new employment would be extremely appreciated. My PayPal is paypal.me/taliajane and my Venmo is @taliajane.
Update: Yelp has issued the following statement:
We do not comment on personnel issues. However, we did agree with many of the points in Ms. Jane's post and we viewed it as her real, personal narrative about what it's like to live in the Bay Area. Her Medium post is an important example of freedom of speech.
Talia Jane is a writer living in the Bay Area who is newly available for hire. She can be found on twitter (@itsa_talia) or crying in a corner questioning her life choices.