Did Uber Break Taxi Strike Over Trump Immigration Order?

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By Jon Steingart

Uber Inc. is defending itself against claims it profited off a work stoppage that New York City taxi drivers called at John F. Kennedy International Airport in protest of an executive order on immigration from President Donald Trump.

“If taxi drivers go on strike, then demand for Uber is going to increase and that type of situation typically causes surge pricing,” Harry Campbell, an Uber driver in Los Angeles who blogs at therideshareguy.com, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 30. “But since Uber would have had a somewhat fixed number of cars at the airport at that time, they actually lost money by removing surge pricing since they didn’t charge as much as they could have.”

“That being said, it was interpreted by many as strike busting and when you combine that with the fact that Uber’s CEO is an advisor to President Trump, it was just the catalyst needed to start the #deleteUber social media movement we’ve been seeing,” Campbell said in an e-mail.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance called for a work stoppage in solidarity with people affected by Trump’s travel order. It called itself “an organization whose membership is largely Muslim, a workforce that’s almost universally immigrant, and a working-class movement that is rooted in the defense of the oppressed” in a statement posted to Facebook earlier in the day. The order blocks the entry of foreign nationals from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan for 90 days.

‘Political Statement' by Taxi Drivers

“In the United States we almost never have specifically political strikes, and this effort was a political statement by taxi drivers,” said Ileen DeVault, professor of labor history at the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. “Strikes are the most important economic power that any group of workers—unionized or not—has,” she told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 30.

Iain Murray, vice president for strategy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said Uber drivers are small business operators who should have the freedom to determine on their own whether to fill the gap left by taxi drivers’ absence. “You have to let each individual businessman come to their own conclusion about what their reactions is to something so political,” he told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 30.

“If they want to not serve people who are their day-to-day customers in protest of other people’s actions, then good. Go ahead and do that. That’s a good way to lose market share,” he said. “I don’t know what the taxi alliance’s justification was for essentially taking it out on the innocent travelers.”

“It’s not shocking that Uber would put greed above social principles,” New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai said in a statement provided to Bloomberg BNA Jan. 30. “It does that to drivers every day.”

Uber Pledges $3M Legal Defense Fund

Uber pledged to create a $3 million legal defense fund and support for drivers outside the U.S. who are affected by the travel order. “It would be interesting to see whether the taxi alliance is doing the same,” Murray said.

Uber said on Twitter after the one-hour taxi driver work stoppage’s scheduled end that surge pricing had been “turned off.” It tweeted a few hours later that the earlier tweet was “not meant to break strike.”

Drivers can participate in a work stoppage if they want because they’re free to start and stop picking up passengers at any time, according to the company. “We’re sorry for any confusion about our earlier tweet—it was not meant to break up any strike,” the company said in a statement provided to Bloomberg BNA Jan. 29. “We wanted people to know they could use Uber to get to and from JFK at normal prices.”

Uber’s rival Lyft Inc. didn’t alter business during the protest, Alexandra LaManna, a company spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 30 by e-mail. The company said it will donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the immigration order.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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