New York City taxi drivers are celebrating a resounding victory after the shame-faced Thursday resignation of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick from President Donald Trump's business advisory group.
The departure comes after the company faced a massive boycott in the form of the #DeleteUber social media campaign urging users to boycott the ride-sharing app. The boycott was the backlash from an Uber attempt to break a one-hour taxi strike by the New York Taxi Workers Association, or NYTWA, in response to Trump's Muslim travel ban.
The strike, called by NYTWA on Jan. 28, asked the city's yellow cabs, green cars, black limousines and app-hailed Uber and Lyft drivers to refrain from dispatches to JFK International Airport in protest of what the association considered a discriminatory anti-Muslim travel ban.
The strike received overwhelmingly positive coverage amid outrage versus the ban.
Uber then made a move to suspend “surge pricing” – higher fares imposed during times of maximum demand – in a miscalculation seen as an opportunistic scabbing attempt rooted in Kalanick's collaboration with the White House.
Facing a cascade of deletions, the company went on the defensive, declaring that “experience has taught us that change comes from having a seat at the table and speaking up for what is right.” The statement added that the Uber CEO's advisory role “should not be taken as an endorsement of the new administration’s policy positions.”
Invigorated by the outpouring of solidarity, the NYTWA organized a demonstration Thursday at Uber's Long Island City headquarters alongside allied groups and unions to demand that Kalanick pull out of Trump's business advisory group.
On a Facebook event page, the union stated, “Now is the time for all those who value justice and equality to join together in holding Uber accountable, not only for its complicity with Trump’s hateful policies but also for impoverishing workers.”
“I used to work for Uber but I quit. They treated you like an animal. They treat you bad,” Mohammad Salim, a 20-year cab driver and immigrant from Pakistan who attended the protest, said to news site Vocativ. “Trump’s policies are really bad and wrong. We will stand against him and stand united so they can hear our voices.”
Shortly after the protest, the libertarian Kalanick announced his departure from the White House advisory group. However, the damage was already done: the brutal consumer response had already led to 200,000 deleted accounts. Disney CEO Bob Iger pulled out of the Friday group meeting shortly afterward.
In a statement celebrating the Uber mogul's retreat, NYTWA organizers noted the coinciding interests of the Trump administration and tech entrepreneurs such as Kalanick.
“Trump hurts immigrant and Muslim families with his executive orders. Uber, Lyft, and their cohorts hurt immigrant and Muslim workers with their business practices. Neither believe in minimum wage laws or other basic worker protections. That’s the real connection between the titans of the so-called gig economy and Trump,” the statement said.
The statement ended with a call to continue supporting the workers as they fight “against both the Muslim ban and Uber’s policies of poverty.”
Uber has faced pressure from taxi workers' associations and legislators across the globe for its treatment of drivers, who have complained of poor treatment by the company along with unstable scheduling, deteriorating work conditions and diminished cab fares.
Last November, U.K. Labour MP Frank Field released a blistering report characterizing Uber conditions as resembling “Victorian-style sweated labor.” The report noted that the company's profits are due to the sacrifices of a “sizeable group of people who bear the largely unseen human scars of the 'gig economy.'”
The report also expressed a growing fear that without curbing Uber's practices, growing numbers of workers would find themselves “toiling through anxiety and insecurity, for unsafe lengths of time across seven days a week, in return for poverty pay.”
In an interview Monday with Democracy Now!, NYTWA executive director and co-founder Bhairavi Desai said that the largely Muslim and Sikh immigrant workforce her union represents is “deeply fragmented and impoverished” by Uber's “absolutely atrocious policy in its treatment of the workers,” making it “harder for people to rise up and take collective action.”
Despite the adverse conditions experienced by Uber's drivers, however, Desai expressed pride in New York cabbies' coordinated job action: “This was a real act of courage, you know, particularly to have a workforce that’s predominantly black and brown stand up in this time.”