There are a lot of reasons to not use ride-hailing app Uber: shoddy labor practices; attempts to strong-arm local governments; even the risk that a poorly vetted employee—excuse me, “independent contractor”—will smash you in the face with a hammer. On Sunday there’s one more, and it’s got its own hashtag. As protests over Donald Trump’s Muslim ban exploded at airports all across the country on Saturday, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, an AFL-CIO affiliated nonprofit organization that represents New York taxi drivers, announced a one-hour work stoppage at JFK International Airport out of solidarity with the protesters. In a powerful statement on its Facebook page, the group, which represents a majority-Muslim workforce, was unequivocal about Trump’s actions:
Drivers stand in solidarity with refugees coming to America in search of peace and safety and with those who are simply trying to return to their homes here in America after travelling abroad. We stand in solidarity with all of our peace-loving neighbors against this inhumane, cruel, and unconstitutional act of pure bigotry.
But as the old saying goes, one person’s inhumane, cruel, and unconstitutional act of pure bigotry is another person’s opportunity. So about a half-hour after the work stoppage was scheduled to end, Uber’s New York Twitter account made this somewhat less-inspiring announcement:
Uber’s motivation for eliminating surge pricing at JFK right after the work stoppage is a matter of dispute, but its timing couldn’t have been worse. The company has been under fire for its ties to Donald Trump since Uber CEO Travis Kalanick agreed to serve on Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, a group of business leaders who will “meet with the president frequently to share their specific experience and knowledge as the President implements his economic agenda.” In a meeting defending his decision to work with Trump, Kalanick reportedly told concerned Uber employees that the company “would partner with anyone in the world as long as they’re about making transportation in cities better.” (This is not a very convincing defense, considering some of the world leaders who have met this criterion over the years.)
In light of Kalanick’s position on Trump, and his company’s long history of scrapes with progressives, many people were unimpressed by Uber’s offer to provide travelers a cheap way out of the chaos at JFK. No one was less impressed than journalist Dan O’Sullivan, who accused the company of strikebreaking and urged his followers to “#deleteUber.”
Hundreds of users took his advice, tweeting screenshots of their deleted accounts. (O’Sullivan helpfully linked to the company’s “Delete my Uber account” page.) In the “Share Details” field, users told Uber why they were leaving, with those reasons including countless variations on “Stop colluding with fascists,” plus “This aggression will not stand” and the complete script to Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie.
As the hashtag #deleteUber began trending, the company attempted to clarify:
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the company provided a short additional statement suggesting Uber turned off surge pricing to allow more of its users to participate in the protest:
We’re sorry for any confusion about our earlier tweet—it was not meant to break up any strike. We wanted people to know they could use Uber to get to and from JFK at normal prices, especially tonight.
The problem with this interpretation is that the price cut only affected people leaving JFK, not those arriving there to protest. Uber also pointed to the Facebook post from Kalanick that had been linked in its tweet, in which he states his opposition to Trump’s immigration ban and outlines the company’s plans to identify and compensate any Uber drivers affected by it. Kalanick also expressed a general philosophy for dealing with oppressive governments:
[W]e’ve taken the view that in order to serve cities you need to give their citizens a voice, a seat at the table. We partner around the world optimistically in the belief that by speaking up and engaging we can make a difference. Our experience is that not doing so shortchanges cities and the people who live in them.
He plans to use his place at Trump’s table to oppose the immigration ban, starting with the business advisory group’s first meeting on Friday. O’Sullivan, however, was unmoved, writing, “We’ve all read the statement. It makes clear that short of Armageddon, Uber is sticking with Trump for $$$ and influence.”
But perhaps the best preview of the rocky road ahead for businesses that work with the Trump administration came from Twitter user @MilesKlee, whose reason for deleting his account read, in part, “I don’t need a ride to Vichy.”