SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- Thousands of people use the Yelp website to read reviews of restaurants and other business around town. But now, some of the people who post those reviews are fighting to get paid.
A class-action lawsuit has been filed by some of the reviewers who post to the Yelp website, including a writer from Portland. These reviewers said their argument is simple: Yelp can’t survive without them and thus, they are employees of Yelp and should be paid for their work.
“Yelp is basically getting free content - free writers - but then they're making money off of them,” said reviewer Lily Jeung, of Portland. “If you're not doing what they want you to do, they basically will cut you out.”
Jeung is an “elite” reviewer, which means she has written more than 1,000 reviews and has more than 5,000 followers.
Yelp is expecting revenues this year of roughly $228 million, mostly from advertising. And since its launch, the website has recorded nearly 50 million posted reviews.
Consumers read the reviews to make decisions about which restaurants and businesses they will patronize.
Executives at Yelp said the lawsuit is frivolous and a waste of time for the judicial system. But the people posting the reviews, especially the “elite” posters like Jeung, argued that their work is vital to the success of the website. They believe failing to pay them is a violation of the Federal Labor Standard Act.
Some also added that reviews on the website are at times modified to put the businesses which advertise with Yelp in a better light.
Jeung said she noticed “Filtering [of] positive reviews and putting negative reviews on top if they wouldn't advertise and vice-versa.”
Critics, meantime, said if you start paying for reviews on Yelp, which they consider volunteer time, you might as well pay for “likes” on a businesses’ Facebook page or a “re-tweet” on a businesses’ Twitter page.
At issue here, plaintiffs said, is the Federal Labor Standard Act, which states refusing to pay wages to workers by designating them “reviewers” or “yelpers” or “independent contractors” is unlawful because those workers are vital to the success of the business, which relies mostly on reviews.
Jeung said she was often directed to write more reviews if in Yelp’s opinion, her production seemed to slack off.