BY ORSON AGUILAR
Tech-based companies have proliferated across the Bay Area, but Oakland is getting stuck with the dregs of the tech world: Uber.
Oakland community leaders and organizations have tried to persuade Uber to do right by our city as it prepares to move into the former Sears building downtown. Instead, Uber keeps kicking us in the teeth.
Unlike many tech companies, Uber has refused to release its diversity data, giving only a vague response to a recent appeal by Rev. Jesse Jackson. The company seems to barely make even a token effort at corporate social responsibility. And Uber recently agreed to pay a $20 million fine for misleading drivers about their potential earnings.
“The company’s business strategy has involved trampling government regulations and daring the relevant regulators to do something about it.”
– Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times
We’ve asked to meet with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, but so far he won’t find time for us, even though — until public pressure got to be too much — he seemed to have plenty of time to meet with Donald Trump even as Trump declared virtual war on America’s communities of color. He only pulled out of that meeting when it became clear it was hurting his business
New York taxi drivers showed solidarity with airport protesters who demanded an end to Trump’s ban on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries by refusing to make airport pickups during the demonstration. When the drivers asked Uber to join, the company continued business as usual. By turning off surge pricing, the company left the impression that it was trying to break the strike, though it insists that wasn’t its intent, leading to a massive #DeleteUber campaign that quickly trended on Twitter.
While Kalanick did condemn Trump’s immigration order, he also defended working with the president, whose popularity in Oakland ranks somewhere between Walmart and bedbugs. Astonishingly, he dared to couch the company’s position as “Standing up for what’s right.” He told employees he was willing to “partner” with Trump — even as Trump attacked immigrants, prepared to take health care away from millions, and viciously condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and efforts to reform law enforcement.
Yes, Kalanick did eventually drop off of Trump’s business advisory council, but only after so many users had taken up the boycott call that Uber had to institute an automated process to keep up with the flood of users deleting their accounts.
More and more voices in Oakland and nearby are telling Uber to stay out of our community, and understandably so.
We have no doubt that if the residents of this diverse and progressive city got to vote on the matter, the vast majority would vote to tell Uber to stay away. In a town that desperately needs equitable development, Uber seems to have no interest in equity and no concern for anyone or anything but its own profits.
If Uber wants to win Oakland’s trust, Kalanick and his subordinates need to make big changes, and fast — not just small concessions under pressure. Thus far, we’ve seen no sign that they will.