Ride-sharing company Uber Technologies Inc. has been entrenched in the news cycle in recent months, a period of bad publicity culminating in the leak of a video showing its CEO Travis Kalanick engaging in a heated argument with one of the service’s tens of thousands of drivers. Uber’s recent mishaps have been well-chronicled, along with how the company has responded.
A $20 million FTC Settlement
Although this piece of Uber-related news didn’t receive as much attention as more recent incidents, the San Francisco-based company coughed up $20 million to the Federal Trade Commission after it had allegedly “misled prospective drivers with exaggerated earning claims.”
According to the FTC complaint, Uber had posted widely cited claims that uberX drivers in New York City earned median annual incomes of $90,000 and those in San Francisco earned median salaries of $74,000. In reality, drivers’ median incomes in New York and the company’s home city were $61,000 and $53,000, respectively.
A Case Of Horrible Timing
Following President Donald Trump’s Jan. 28 executive order barring refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for several months, New York taxi drivers, many of whom are from the Middle East, staged a boycott, refusing to pick up travelers at the John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Uber appeared to inadvertently thwart the cab drivers’ boycott, announcing that it would turn off its surge pricing at JFK, leading many to urge fellow Twitter users to #deleteuber.
Kalanick then announced that the company would be aiding the families of drivers stranded outside the country financially for the next several months. While he promised to broach the travel ban issue at his next meeting with Trump, as he served as a member of the president’s business advisory council, Kalanick later left the group amid criticism that he was too friendly with the anti-immigrant commander-in-chief.
Culture Of Sexism
In a Feb. 19 blog post, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler described the events leading up to her decision to leave the company, detailing “sexism within the organization” and one co-worker’s behavior, which she said “was clearly sexual harassment” but went unpunished because “he ‘was a high performer.’”
Fowler’s entry went viral, prompting the company to hire former Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate her claims. On Feb. 21, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington wrote in a post on Uber’s site that she had been part of the effort to revamp the company’s culture, reporting that she, Kalanick and Uber’s Chief Human Resources Officer Liane Hornsey “spent over an hour discussing women in the workplace—and talking about the review that’s underway by Eric Holder and [fellow Covington & Burling LLP law firm partner] Tammy Albarran into diversity and inclusion at Uber.”
Damaging Dash Cam Video
A week after Huffington’s note, footage surfaced of Kalanick getting into a heated argument with one of the company’s drivers, who criticized him for lowering fares, and, by extension, drivers’ pay—a move the driver said was "a piece of cake."
“It seems like a piece of cake because I’ve beaten them, but if I didn’t do the things that I did, we would’ve been beaten, I promise,” he told the driver, before growing defensive when the man accused him of dropping the price of UberBLACK, a service the company describes as “a professional driver in a stylish ride.” “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else.”
Kalanick wrote an apology on Uber’s site, apologizing to the driver personally, as well as to Uber’s employees, drivers and riders.
“To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement,” he wrote. “My job as your leader is to lead… and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away.”