The author is a Bay Area tech worker.
Online review company Yelp has come under fire recently as two ex-employees wrote open letters to their employer about the rock bottom wages and Yelp’s total lack of concern for its employees. Talia Jane wrote a scathing open letter to her CEO describing in detail the daily struggle she engages in as she eats plain rice three meals a day. Jaymee Senigaglia, a single mother, was fired after taking three days off to spend time with her boyfriend who was hospitalized after a serious biking accident.
Even more shocking has been Yelp’s reaction to the complaints of their own workers. While in the ICU Senigaglia received a call from Yelp in which they gave her the option of coming into work that day or being fired. In response to her furious letter detailing the nature of her exploitation at work, Yelp posted the confidential details of her termination on Twitter. This included the number of days she took off to care for her three year old son and injured partner. The Tweet was pinned to the top of the feed to ensure maximum visibility.
Yelp’s brazen actions, which have irreparably damaged both of these women’s future job prospects, should come as no surprise. Yelp’s single goal, like all businesses under capitalism, is to maximize profits at the expense of the most vulnerable sections of the population. Indeed, Yelp’s very profit model consists of bullying small businesses into paying for them to hide negative reviews on their site. This has resulted in protests among small business owners, one of whom offered discounts to its customers if they gave them a one star rating on Yelp. Yelp saves millions on labor costs each year as the individuals who create these online reviews are unpaid.
Perhaps most importantly, this story challenges the common stereotype that the tech industry is composed entirely of entitled and highly paid computer programmers. While such individuals certainly exist, there is a massive subculture of poverty that this industry has created and relies on to make a profit. These individuals are essential to the functioning of tech companies yet receive a tiny portion of their profits. They are the Uber chauffeurs, the GrubHub food delivery drivers, the Task Rabbits who wash cars and install shelves. Each of them gets paid per job, ensuring a total lack of stability in employment and income. Moreover, firing one of these employees is as simple as deactivating their access to the App in question; no written warning, no appeal process, and no accountability.
While the public reaction has been highly critical of Yelp and largely supportive of Talia Jane and Jaymee Senigaglia, it is vital that we understand that Yelp’s behavior is not unique or out of the ordinary. To both compete with one another and to reap super profits, capitalist companies must constantly innovate new ways to take as much wealth as possible from the hands of those who create it.