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How Uber and Lyft responded to a taxi strike at JFK airport

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The company’s reactions to Trump’s executive order on immigration receive both criticism and praise

Protestors rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City.
Protestors rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City.
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Transportation took center stage across the country during this weekend’s impromptu protests and rallies against President’s Trump executive order on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries. While the focus may have been on arriving flights, with many protests organized at airports, the taxi and ridehailing industries became a story in themselves when a group of taxi drivers staged a strike to protest the order.

At JFK, taxi drivers who were members of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance staged an impromptu strike on Saturday between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. in protest of the ban. In a statement posted on the organization’s Facebook page, they said that, “by sanctioning bigotry with his unconstitutional and inhumane executive order banning Muslim refugees from seven countries, the president is putting professional drivers in more danger than they have been in any time since 9/11 when hate crimes against immigrants skyrocketed.”

Uber became part of the story when the company sent out a tweet in the aftermath of the strike announcement. According to a company spokesperson, Uber sent out the Twitter message at 7:36 p.m., after the strike was over, to let users know the app was available at normal prices (the company normally receives complaints when surge is on during such moments).

The spokesperson clarified that drivers using Uber can stop or start working in solidarity with protests whenever they want, and in a statement, added:

“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 last night."

In addition, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick released his own statement about the ban, saying that the company has already begun the process of reaching out to their employees affected by the ban, and plans to “identify these drivers and compensate them pro bono during the next three months to help mitigate some of the financial stress and complications with supporting their families and putting food on the table.”

Kalanick has gotten criticism for joining President Trump’s business advisory council, which meets this upcoming Friday and also includes Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla), Ginni Rometty (Chairwoman/CEO of IBM), and a dozen other business leaders. In his statement, the Uber CEO says he plans to discuss the impact of the ban with the president:

“That means this ban will impact many innocent people—an issue that I will raise this coming Friday when I go to Washington for President Trump’s first business advisory group meeting.”

“I understand that many people internally and externally may not agree with that decision, and that’s OK. It’s the magic of living in America that people are free to disagree. But whatever your view please know that I’ve always believed in principled confrontation and just change; and have never shied away (maybe to my detriment) from fighting for what’s right.”

The tweet that evening, as well as Kalanick’s response and decision to work with the Trump administration, have also received criticism online, and the hashtag #DeleteUber has begun to circulate.

Last night, Lyft also became part of the storyline when CEO Logan Green both condemned the ban, and also promised the company would donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union over the next four years.

Earlier this morning, as reported by The Hill, Lyft also sent out a letter to customers by co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green that said their decision was an effort to “defend our constitution.” Reposted on the company’s blog, the letter reads, in part:

“This weekend, Trump closed the country's borders to refugees, immigrants, and even documented residents from around the world based on their country of origin. Banning people of a particular faith or creed, race or identity, sexuality or ethnicity, from entering the U.S. is antithetical to both Lyft's and our nation's core values. We stand firmly against these actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community.”

Updated, 3:55 p.m.: Uber has issues another statement from CEO Travis Kalanick, posted on his Facebook page, that reads:

Standing up for the driver community:

Following up from my post yesterday https://www.facebook.com/traviskal/posts/1331814113506421.

Here's the email I'm sending to drivers affected by President Trump's unjust immigration and travel ban:

At Uber we’ve always believed in standing up for what’s right. Today we need your help supporting drivers who may be impacted by the President's unjust immigration ban.

Drivers who are citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen and live in the US but have left the country, will not be able to return for 90 days. This means they won’t be able to earn money and support their families during this period.

So it’s important that as a community that we do everything we can to help these drivers. Here’s what Uber will do:

- Provide 24/7 legal support for drivers who are trying to get back into the country. Our lawyers and immigration experts will be on call 24/7 to help.

- Compensate drivers for their lost earnings. This will help them support their families and put food on the table while they are banned from the US;

- Urge the government to reinstate the right of U.S. residents to travel - whatever their country of origin - immediately;

- Create a $3 million legal defense fund to help drivers with immigration and translation services.

If you are a driver or a friend or family member of someone who has been affected, please contact us at: https://goo.gl/forms/AIJTivooFxuExX1p1.

Uber is a community. We’re here to support each other. Please help Uber to help drivers who may be affected by this wrong and unjust immigration ban.

Update: February 1, 10:30 a.m.: Fasten, a ridesharing company based in Boston that also operates in Austin, recently announced that it will be matching tips to drivers with donations to the ACLU. The following blog post, written by the company’s Russian-born CEO, went up on the company’s website yesterday:

We started Fasten to build a ridesharing company that puts people first. Our job is to connect riders and drivers. Our mission is to create connections between people.

We should never let our national origin, religion, or political views divide us, nor prevent us from seeing the real human being in each other.

Starting today, we will double-down our efforts to put the emphasis on the human aspect of ridesharing. For the next week, we will match all tips riders give their drivers and donate 100% of the proceeds to a nonprofit organization that stands up for the rights of all people.

This way we can make a difference together. Reward the hard-working people in your community, while supporting the organizations that fight for our freedoms everywhere.

It is not the first step Fasten has taken towards true “people first” transportation and it won’t be the last.

__

Kirill Evdakov,

CEO

Donation to the American Civil Liberties Union will match tips from 1/31/16 12 pm — 2/08/16 11:59 pm.

As reported by Buzzfeed yesterday afternoon, Uber also begun to send messages to customers who have disabled the app, telling users that the ban is “unjust, wrong, and against everything we stand for.”