Editor's note: Last Friday, Talia Ben-Ora, a 25-year-old Yelp employee in San Francisco, was fired two hours after she sent an open letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, complaining about her pay. Ben-Ora earned $12.20 an hour as a customer service rep for Eat24, the food-ordering app owned by Yelp. After taxes, she took home $8.15 an hour. In an expensive city like San Francisco, she wrote, this simply was not enough. Her long letter, posted on medium.com under the name Talia Jane, has set off a spirited discussion about issues ranging from corporate responsibility to the problems of employees who feel entitled. The following is a condensed version of Ben-Ora's letter:
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, 17 years later, I have those things. But boy did I not anticipate 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. 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.
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.
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. Another guy, who ultimately was 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. 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 got this 10-pound bag of rice before I moved here and my meals at home 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.
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 co-pays. $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 $20 didn't determine whether or not you could afford to get to work the next week.
Do you know what the average retention rate of your lowest employees (like myself) is? 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?
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 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. I also have to pay my gas and electric bill. Last month it was $120. 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?
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.
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. I suggested that Eat24 allow customers to 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. 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.
I did notice 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 that Yelp could save about $24,000 in two months if the company stopped restocking flavored coconut waters since no one drinks them. You could probably cut back on a lot of the drinks and snacks. 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 50 times an hour while eating pistachios?
Your Friend In Food, Talia