As protesters gathered at New York City’s JFK Airport on Saturday—and later, more airports around the country—following President Donald Trump’s executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days, and suspending the admission of refugees for 120 days, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance halted service to and from the airport in a show of solidarity with the protesters and people affected by the ban.
The 19,000-member union wrote on Facebook that they stand “firmly opposed to Donald Trump's Muslim ban. As an organization whose membership is largely Muslim, a workforce that's almost universally immigrant, and a working-class movement that is rooted in the defense of the oppressed, we say no to this inhumane and unconstitutional ban.”
Enter Uber. The ride-hailing giant, which employs 36,000 drivers in the New York City region, also made a social media posting on Saturday, but a much more succinct one.
Uber is infamous for its price gouging, especially during bad weather, music festivals, or holidays, for example, when there are less drivers on the roads to pick up customers. It was a nice gesture that Uber turned off surge pricing during this tumultuous time. Or, at least that’s what Uber thought.
When this tweet began to circulate, and when social media users caught wind that Uber still appeared to be servicing riders during the strike from 6 to 7 p.m., people began deleting the Uber app from their phones, and posting the evidence—or “receipts,” as some would say—to Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #deleteUber.
Uber and its CEO, Travis Kalanick, immediately went on damage control. Kalanick sent an email to employees on Sunday announcing a $3 million plan to help drivers who may be overseas and unable to reenter the U.S. because of President Trump’s ban, overshadowing rival Lyft’s $1 million pledge to the ACLU. He also said Uber would provide lawyers and immigration experts for its drivers.
For all of those people deleting their Uber app, I have a question for you: why now? Since Uber first began making waves in major cities, it has consistently taken advantage of what traditional taxi services have not been able to provide customers. From cheaper prices to easier payment options to more accurate pick-up and drop-off location technology, Uber has excelled, slowly pushing out one taxi company after another.
So again: why now? Are you seriously that surprised that Uber would keep operating its airport service while the New York Taxi Workers Alliance stopped? Sure, it would have been nice had Uber shown a sign of unity with the taxi union, but we’re talking about the biggest privately-held company in the world. Uber is worth $68 billion, and is determined to see that number grow.
Look, I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m simply looking at history. And let’s be realistic. Some of the people who hastily deleted the Uber app over the weekend will likely download it back on to their smartphone in the coming weeks because they won’t want to pay the surge prices on Lyft.
There’s no denying Uber has always been a little shady. They’ve faced intense opposition, lobbying, and legal challenges for almost every one of its business ventures. Uber has been sued countless times by its drivers, and loses as much money in a year as it brings in. But did you #delete the Uber app during any one of those past controversies? If so, please, call me out.
Uber’s decision to keep business going as usual last Saturday at JFK Airport is just another example of Uber being Uber: convenient, suspect, and filthy, filthy rich.
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