Anyone struggling with a low-paying job and massive student debt will be able to relate to the story of this Bay Area customer service rep for Yelp, Talia Jane. She wrote an open letter on Medium addressed to the company's CEO, detailing the difficulties she and her colleagues have trying to survive in San Francisco on minimum wage.
"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," Jane writes. "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?"
Jane goes on to detail that she currently can't afford groceries because 80% of her income goes to paying rent, as the tech boom has pushed the San Francisco rental market to nightmarishly high rents. The average one-bedroom apartment in the city is around $3,500 a month.
"I haven’t bought groceries since I started this job. Not because I’m lazy, but because I got this 10-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," Jane writes. Many tech companies keep snacks and even lunches in their office kitchens. "Because 80% 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?"
Yelp seemingly responded pretty quickly to Jane's note — by letting her go.
CEO Jeremy Stoppleman addressed the issue on Twitter, acknowledging the cost of living in San Francisco is high, but side-stepping the wage issue. He wrote that the company would be moving customer service jobs to Arizona soon, where employees can presumably live on minimum wage (which is $8.05 in that state).
We spoke with Jane via email about the reaction to her letter, and she told us, "The reaction has been overwhelming and intense. Every possible angle and thought is being thrown at me, good and bad, but that means people were affected enough to want to say something. And talking about the need for a living wage, whether you agree or not, is still talking about the need for a living wage."
Open letters to CEOs and corporations by employees aren't a new thing. Often, the employees aren't actually fired. Walmart employee Lisa Pietro addressed the store's CEO on the Huffington Post in October and still works for the chain. The calls to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour (estimated to be enough to support a family) have been in the headlines recently, with many fast food employees going on strike and organizing unions. The minimum hourly wage in California is $9, and in the city of San Francisco it's $12.25.
What's next for Jane? "My immediate plans are to file for unemployment and eat a sandwich. (I was able to buy bread today!)"