In Defence of Talia Jane
4 days ago, news broke of the firing of 25-year-old Yelp Customer Service Rep Talia Jane over tweets and an open letter on Medium she had directed at Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppleman. She voiced her inability to buy groceries on her $8/hour after-tax salary, about the growing wealth gap between the product side and customer service side within the Tech Industry; particularly in San Francisco. Hours after the story had gone viral, she was let go.
Surely enough, Talia Jane, her firing and the trappings of so-called “Millennial Entitlement” has become a hotly debated subject on my Facebook feed in the past couple of days; with older Facebook friends sharing Stefanie William’s Tech Insider op-ed about how the Jane-Yelp affair was coming from an immature and entitled perspective; one of which captioning the article with “So true! They think the world owes them a living!”
I have a fundamental problem with this argument, both logically and essentially.
Logically, Jane’s critics are, by and large, ignoring her main argument: that (often young 20 something) entry level employees deserve a living wage for the work they produce.
Insinuating that she should have the wither all to “get a job at Starbucks or waitressing” is really as ad hominem as arguments get; as if low and unlivable wages weren’t also a problem in the service industry. That’s why the 15 and Fairness movement exsists.
More importantly, though, on a fundamental level; her critics are backing the idea that entry level work does not merit the ability to be able make a dignified living (ie being able to afford, ya know, groceries or your transit fare) and that part and parcel of being a working young person is ‘the struggle’; like some sort of twisted hazing ritual that’s meant to say “Congratulations! Welcome to the real world. Here’s a mountain of student debt and an asymmetry of jobs your qualified for!”
There is something deeply disturbing in that argument.
In North America, you are more likely to fall below the poverty line if you are between the ages of 18 and 24, regardless of what kind of employment you have. As a 23 year-old, this statistic is worrying to me.
Although I am lucky in the regard that the Tech Community in Toronto is more fair minded in compensating entry level employees and the cost of living here is far more sane than it is in the Bay Area, I can’t help but be upset by Talia Jane’s story and how people have reacted so callously and were quick to judge her without examining the bigger picture and underlying consequences.
After all, I could just as easily be in her shoes.