Yelp and the Erosion of Institutional Accountability

By Ana Lopez, Contributing Writer

This past Friday, Talia Jane, a low-paid customer-service agent put the spotlight on Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman when she wrote him an emotionally-fueled letter about the company’s lack of financial help for its employees. Jane published the letter on Medium as a blog post, addressing it to Stoppelman personally. Jane’s words were unequivocally heard, and not just by Stoppelman. The letter was certainly effective in stirring media attention and garnering sympathy. It was also effective in getting her fired.

Yelp hasn’t always been known for its great business ethics, which is not really something people wonder about when they’re trying to figure out the best burger joint to go to. Still, the publicly traded company has found success despite its blemishes, estimated to be worth $1 billion. So why does Talia Jane, working for such a well-off company, find herself in so much financial need? According to her, customer service for Yelp is “a job that can’t pay a living wage.”

Jane is paid $733.24 bi-weekly, which is around $8.15 an hour after taxes. In her letter she claimed that nearly 75 percent of her paycheck goes to her rent, despite living 30 minutes away from work because it was a more affordable area of San Francisco. Her outreach was essentially ignored considering it ended in her being terminated from the company.

The worst of these financial situations doesn’t even really seem to be the money, but the dismissal of pleas and thought-out arguments from those who have the power to change it. Jeremy Stoppelman had no personal reply to Jane’s letter and only managed to acknowledge the truth in her statement about the cost of living in SF [San Francisco] in his five tweets addressing the controversy. By comparison, Jane’s letter was 2,392 words.

It’s all too distressing that this is the kind of labor force that college students are being thrown into the most exciting areas of industry are also the ones where employees seem to matter the least. And this kind of exploitation is only made worse by the fraught financial situation in which many university graduates find themselves. From the very outset, the Bursar’s office hits us over the head with calls to pay, pay, pay, and then once we’re out the door we are asked to donate, donate, donate. It’s as if we’re expected to be grateful for whatever opportunity we’re given simply because it’s an “opportunity,” but in the end, we all have to pay for our groceries.

There’s no sense of beneficiary or community in the workplace these days, let alone any in  overpriced, overly competitive universities like ours. As the millennials of our society, we can either write more letters, tweet passive words, or demand better. Regardless, taking action is the name of the game.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Ana Lopez at [email protected]