A Summary of Uber & All Its Controversy

Posted by Emma Brownstein
(@Emma Brownstein)

Kalanick
Photo by: Reuters

To be blunt, Uber in the past few months has faced a complete shitstorm, amounting to the resignation of founder and CEO Travis Kalanick on June 21st. Once a seemingly invincible powerhouse, Uber has been ridden with controversy that they can’t seem to shake.

January

The hashtag #DeleteUber started trending in January after the company turned off surge pricing at JFK International Airport where hundreds met to protest Donald Trump’s Muslim-ban that prevented refugees and Muslim citizens from seven countries from entering the United States. Less than an hour before Uber issued the price reduction, The New York Taxi Workers Alliance put a work stoppage into effect for solidarity with the protesters and a statement against bigotry, which made it seem as though Uber was undermining the strike for profit. While Uber denied that they had any intention to oppose the strike, Kalanick defended his position on Trump’s advisory panel. The #DeleteUber movement moved forward, livid at the company’s actions, indifference and support of the president.

delete uber
Photo by: TechCrunch

February

The toxic workplace environment of the company came to light in February when Susan Fowler, a former Uber employee, released statement accusing Uber of fostering sexual assault, citing a number of instances were her male coworkers and superiors behaved inappropriately, and HR refused to intervene. Kalanick called for a complete investigation, saying that “There can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber,” but not much was actually done until later.

Meanwhile, Amit Singhal, Vice President of Engineering, resigned because he failed to disclose former sexual assault allegations made against him at Google, and Kalanick was exposed on video throwing a fit at an Uber driver over fare pricing.

March

In March, information about Uber’s secret software “Greyball” leaked. The software was used to avoid potential threats for drivers, including law enforcement in states where Uber was not yet legal. For example, when Portland police attempted to shut down illegal Uber activity by setting up sting operations, the software would notify the drivers of any suspicious activity, enabling them to cancel their services before getting fined. Investigations done by The Department of Justice in May never amounted to much, but Greyball and Uber’s attitude surrounding it is align with the company’s former and preceding shady behavior.

Around the same time, Uber President Jeff Jones quit following the resignation of other executives, such as Charlie Miller, Security Researcher. In a statement, Jones said “It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business.”

Jeff Jones
Photo by: Youtube

June

June is when all the Uber-tension building up over the past few months exploded.

On June 6th, Uber fired 20 employees after an independent law firm investigated a whopping 215 HR claims. It was discovered that 100 of the claims resulted in no action.

On June 8th, an email from Kalanick in 2013 came out, which exemplified the “bro-culture” Uber has become infamous for. In the email, Kalanick was said to write sex rules for Uber employees before a company party in Florida.

“Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic “YES! I will have sex with you” AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML,” Kalanick wrote. “You better read this or I’ll kick your ass,” was a phrase found near the top of the email.

On the 13th, a board member resigned due to sexist comments made to Arianna Huffington, a board member. David Bonderman made attempts at humor, playing to stereotypes about women in the workplace, at a meeting especially for the purpose of discussing complaints about sexism and workplace culture. On the same day, Kalanick announced that he would take a leave of absence because of stress caused by his mother’s death.

Approximately a week later, after all the turmoil of 2017, Kalanick officially resigned. A shareholder revolt calling for change made his leadership unsustainable. “I love Uber more than anything in the world and at this difficult moment in my personal life I have accepted the investors’ request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight,” Kalanick said.

Kalanick Conference
Photo by: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

The Future

Uber is supposedly committed to righting their wrongs and improving their ethic both in office environment and towards their drivers. That being said, chief of HR, Liane Hornsey, said about the company “Change does not happen overnight.”

On June 20th, Uber announced that the company will introduce tipping for drivers, a function that they were formerly against, marking a potential start of a cleanup effort. They also initiated a campaign they’re calling “180 Days of Change.” They plan to start with bettering driver earnings, but plan to make all sorts of amends in the upcoming sixth months. Tipping is a good start, but Uber certainly has a ways to go.