Uber Responds to Rage over Alleged 'Strikebreaking' During Immigration Protests
On Saturday night, Uber’s New York City Twitter account notified riders that the company was turning off surge pricing for trips at JFK Airport, the site of protests against President Donald Trump’s executive order blocking some Middle Eastern travelers and refugees.
Critics swiftly accused the ridesharing company of attempting to undermine or profit from a work stoppage by taxi drivers that had been called by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, an AFL-CIO affiliate that represents many immigrants, and whose work has been largely focused on stopping the encroachment of ride-hailing companies like Uber.
What followed was a firestorm of online anger and calls for a boycott of Uber. Well into Sunday morning, #deleteuber was a top trending topic on Twitter, with many commenters sharing screenshots of their deletions or account cancellations.
A spokesman for Uber, however, has told Fortune that the decision to turn off surge pricing was made specifically to avoid profiting from increased demand during the protest. The company has previously made a similar commitment to limiting surge pricing during disasters, after being accused of taking advantage of riders in times of need.
Uber’s notification regarding surge pricing went out at 7:36 Eastern Time, after the end of the taxi drivers’ announced work stoppage.
In addition to the taxi stoppage, transit to JFK was roiled on Saturday by temporary restrictions on the AirTrain system that connects the airport to the city’s subway. At least some protesters reported using Uber to get to the protests while train access was restricted. If those riders had experienced unusually high fares, Uber could have risked accusations of attempting to either suppress or profit from the protest.
Some promoting the Uber boycott also criticized Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s decision to serve on an economic advisory panel to President Donald Trump. However, Kalanick swiftly issued a strong response to the Trump administration order, saying that dozens of Uber employees and “thousands” of drivers who use the platform could be affected. He said Uber will offer direct financial support for drivers impacted by the travel restrictions.
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Some promoting the Uber boycott said they would give their business to either traditional taxis or to Uber competitor Lyft. Lyft co-founder and CEO Logan Green voiced his company’s opposition to the immigration ban on Saturday, and the company announced a $1 million donation to the ACLU, which has successfully obtained a court injunction against the travel restrictions.
While the current anger at Uber may have been triggered by a misunderstanding of the company’s motivations, it was also fueled by a succession of disputes the company has had with city governments, taxi drivers, and its own workers. That includes accusations that its business model drives down wages and erodes worker protections, claims for which the evidence is mixed.