Charles Hugh Smith recently called attention to a controversy over a Yelp employee who was fired for publishing an open letter to her CEO about the hardships she and her age-peer colleagues faced. I’m disappointed to have to say that I believe Smith misrepresented the young woman’s complaints pretty badly, since I’ve usually found his assessments fair-minded, even when I’ve disagreed with them. He described Talia Ben-Ora’s open letter as a self-parodying outburst of callow privilege. Having first read his commentary, I was floored to discover that the original letter included specific complaints that:
1) Ben-Ora had taken to sleeping under multiple layers of clothing because she could not afford her PG&E bill;
2) A CVS employee had taken pity on her and given her $6 so that she could purchase BART fare to work one morning;
3) On another occasion when Ben-Ora had no money for BART fare, her manager had advised her to drive to work instead, deliberately jump the toll at an automated bridge toll plaza, and pay the fine later;
4) Ben-Ora had been gorging on free supplies of bread provided by Yelp exclusively for employee consumption at work in the hope of needing to eat less after work;
5) After work, she had been subsisting on little more than a bag of rice and had been drinking large quantities of water before bed in an effort, sometimes futile, to stave off hunger pains overnight;
6) A colleague had complained on an office white board that he was facing imminent homelessness, and Ben-Ora was convinced that another colleague was already homeless;
7) A third colleague had started a GoFundMe page because she couldn’t make rent on her own;
8) Ben-Ora had financed her move to the Bay Area using credit card debt;
9) She was spending 80% of her income on rent, with a thirty-mile commute to work;
10) She is afraid that she will not be able to service her debts;
11) She cannot afford copayments on her medical insurance.
Frankly, a number of these complaints are Dickensian. The tone in much of Ben-Ora’s open letter is snarky, passive-aggressive, immature, flippant, or otherwise not ideal, but the specific complaints I just listed are so damning of Yelp on their own to excuse deficiencies in her tone. What Ben-Ora describes of her eating habits is severe malnutrition. When civilians in war zones are reduced to subsisting on bags of rice, whatever free bread they can scrounge from benefactors, and excessive volumes of water to suppress their own hunger, it’s an international outrage.
Smith advises her to buy fresh vegetables at Chinese groceries and find trustworthy housemates to split a common residence. This would be sage counsel if Ben-Ora hadn’t been trying to make ends meet on $733 biweekly with crushing personal debt in an extremely expensive urban area. She is far from the only person to have moved far into the suburbs in the hope of affording to hold a job in San Francisco. It would not be at all frivolous of her to say that she does not have the time or energy to cook or make new friends, and the wisdom of cramming strangers together as roommates in a strange city is always questionable at best.
Realtalk, anyone with regular gainful employment should be able to afford a studio apartment of her own. Full stop. It’s more Yelp’s problem than its employees’ that they cannot. I have to wonder what rationale inspired Yelp to establish a major customer service center in San Francisco and not, say, Sacramento. It was asking for this sort of employee hardship and resulting negative publicity by bringing debt-plagued youngsters with no local ties into one of the most expensive rental markets in the country on salaries a bit over half what they’d get to manage a Dunkin’ Donuts store in rural Maryland.
Smith is wrong about Ben-Ora being an insolent whiner. She’s a whistleblower. The California state prison system would be ordered into receivership anew if it were feeding inmates the way Yelp’s junior customer service employees have been eating. In spite of the recurring bog-standard Millennial children’s bitchfest tone of Ben-Ora’s open letter, it’s probably the least frivolous, most damning list of grievances from a direct stateside employee of a major tech company that I’ve ever read. She and her colleagues truly cannot afford to feed themselves or heat their bedrooms. It’s especially ironic, of course, that Ben-Ora got fired for publicly complaining about a company renowned for facilitating frank public consumer reviews of businesses. Shoe don’t fit so nice on the other foot, do it, massa?
Talia Ben-Ora should sue Yelp for a lot more than some free soup. To misappropriate Kennedy a wee bit, ask not what you can do to pop your punk-ass boss; ask what your punk-ass boss can do to pop you. Say, Mr. Stoppelman, a Seagram’s ginger ale on the rocks sounds delicious. Meet me at the South Medford Burger King at 2130 hours sharp, and don’t forget to bring the drinkin’ money.
Sure, that’s a bogus order. Discovery orders on behalf of plaintiff’s counsel in the coming class action by Yelp’s starving employees, however, will be valid and legally binding. Please to enjoy.
No C-suite prick gets to tone-police my white ass as long as I’m doing farm work and scavenging deposit bottles at rest areas for extra pocket change. BottleDrop is bae as shit, y’all. I say this as a rank dilettante who has never brought in a single respectable garbage bag full of cans. BottleDrop is still bae as shit. That right there is how a decent society treats its poors. Yelp, on the other hand, is shit. Just shit. That’s how it treats its employees, and that’s what it is. I can’t concede it any more nuance or benefit of the doubt than that. If its employees can’t afford groceries, they’re 100% in the right to go public with complaints that bitch I can’t feed myself on what yinz are paying me.
There but for the grace of God go so many of us. We need to keep speaking up about the unconscionable, even if it makes us insolent little brats. No governor has the authority to deny us permission to speak, and no citizen should ask permission in the first place.
That’s my five-star review of the Bill of Rights, I guess.