This is Talia Jane. She's 25, and up until Friday afternoon she worked for Eat24, the food-ordering app owned by Yelp.
Jane told BuzzFeed News she moved to San Francisco to start working as a customer service representative at the company in August after finishing an English literature degree at California State University, Long Beach.
Jane said she wanted to work for the company's media team but was told the customer service rep position was a good way to break into the business, learn essential skills, and transition across departments.
However, the reality of living and working in one of the most expensive cities in the country soon caught up with her.
Even though she rented an apartment 30 miles away from the company's downtown offices, she struggled to afford her rent, making just $12.25 an hour — or $8.15 after tax. She also had to factor in more than $200 per month in transportation fees, since she was taking the train to work.
She had also planned to find a co-worker to room with her, she said, but quickly discovered many of them were either living at home or otherwise unable to afford the rent.
"I thought to myself, Oh, I'm tremendously fucked, so I'm just going to try really hard on improving at this job so I can transfer and get a pay increase," she said, "but then I was told that wouldn't happen for at least a year."
Having cut back on buying groceries in order to afford her rent and bills, and juggling 40 hours of overnight shifts a week, Jane went to bed on Friday after drinking a liter of water to stop hunger pains.
She said she awoke two hours later, starving, so she made herself some rice — the only food she could afford.
"While cooking the rice, I suddenly became aware that this wasn't the first time this had happened," she said.
Hungry, tired, and struggling to make ends meet, she began tweeting at Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman.
She then channeled her thoughts into a post on Medium, entitled "An Open Letter To My CEO."
The post, which has been shared across the tech world on Twitter and been viewed more than 85,000 people, goes into detail about Jane's struggles making ends meet. Here are some excerpts:
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... 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.
"I wanted [Stoppelman] to understand that I wasn't some little, annoying fly buzzing around his head," she told BuzzFeed News.
"I wanted him to understand that I'm not some obnoxious idiot who thinks it's funny to harass the CEO on Twitter. I'm someone who has concerns and is reaching out, hoping that he can do something.
"I was sitting there and thinking, I hope he sees this and I hope my CEO listens and hears me, and then it started to dawn on me: I wonder if I'll get fired for saying this out loud?"
After publishing the post at 3 p.m. on Friday, her company email account stopped working two hours later, she said.
"My manager and HR told me the letter and what I wrote violated Yelp's terms of conduct," she said.
After he was contacted by BuzzFeed News on Saturday, Stoppelman began tweeting about Jane's dismissal.
Although Stoppelman said the post was not the reason for Jane's dismissal, a spokesperson for Yelp would not elaborate, telling BuzzFeed News the company would not comment on personnel matters.
"We do not comment on personnel issues," the spokesperson said. "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. Most importantly, it's an important example of freedom of speech."
"We agree with her comments about the high costs of living in San Francisco, which is why we announced in December that we are expanding our Eat24 customer support team into our Phoenix office where will pay the same wage."
Jane said the company wasn't being honest with the truth about her dismissal.
"Yelp is trying to make this die down by lying about it," she said. "Firing someone while their post about pay issues is on the cusp of going viral, that's like a lightning strike in the middle of a super-dry forest. Things have just exploded."
Read Jane's full Medium post here.
David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in New York.
Contact David Mack at email@example.com.
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