Last weekend, the internet erupted in flames when the ride sharing company Uber supposedly “broke” a taxi strike at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday night in response to President Donald Trump’s refugee ban. In response, #DeleteUber started trending as a hashtag, with many users complaining that the company’s endless search for profit overlooks the political costs of their actions.
First, there’s one important fact that #DeleteUber’s narrative misses about the whole fiasco, as pointed out by Uber expert Jared Meyer:
That’s right, Uber was not breaking any formal strike by a union with a collective bargaining agreement. The work stoppage, instead, was called by New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance, a group that drivers as independent contractors can voluntarily pay dues to but does not bargain on their behalf.
Furthermore, Uber drivers are not employees of the company. They chose to work when and where they wish; headquarters has no control in directing them to specific locations such as JFK.
Instead, the Uber drivers that chose to work that night were simply servicing a busy airport in desperate need of transportation because of some taxi driver’s political actions. There’s nothing wrong with the taxi drivers’ boycott; they’re free to conduct their business as they please. And so are Uber drivers.
Quite frankly, the company has nothing to apologize for.
Indeed, the whole scandal is befuddling. It’s hard to see how Uber drivers are the bad guys for transporting wary travelers home. Did the outrage mob expect to quarantine the airport, keeping those who want to leave locked in like prisoners? Or worse, forcing them to take public transportation?
To the contrary, the protest at JFK likely would not have been as effective if demonstrators didn’t have a convenient option like Uber to transport them.
Contrary to perception, Uber took a strong stand against Trump’s refugee ban. CEO Travis Kalanick shared a company-wide email before the protest opposing the ban and promised to push the issue in a upcoming meeting with the administration. Uber then turned off surge pricing for rides from the airport during the protest, a move they rarely make.
Most admirably, the company pledged to cover the lost wages of drivers who are temporarily barred from entry into the country because of the Trump administration’s order.
It’s important to also remember that Uber’s competitor, Lyft, did not formally turn off service to JFK either. However, the company was likely spared the same wrath because of their announcement that they would be donating $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union.
In the days hence, New York Taxi Workers’ Twitter account has been filled with abuse directed at Uber. Perhaps the #DeleteUber campaign is not quite as grassroots as portrayed, but rather is fomented by taxi interests looking to knock their competitors.
In any case, consumers should not punish Uber drivers merely trying to make a living because of the outrage mob’s unreasonable idea of protest.