Uber’s reputation took a severe hit when its CEO, Travis Kalanick, was tied to President Donald Trump’s administration and the company was accused of profiteering from political turmoil regarding immigration. Internal conflict and an external #DeleteUber campaign culminated with Kalanick stepping down from Trump’s Economic Advisory Committee and Uber setting aside a $3M legal defense fund to support drivers affected by Trump’s travel policies.
The decision highlights the complexities of navigating politics in the government and workplace and the impact of public relations. Travis Kalanick purportedly opposes the new immigration policy, and described in an internal email that the best route to advocate for change was to have a seat at the table.
Many employees were unsatisfied with his response and circulated a document detailing how his engagement with the administration affected them. Soon after, Kalanick stepped down from the board. Kalanick’s decision bolstered the morale of the company, many employees being immigrants themselves. As a service company, the employees are customer facing and it is important that the CEO does right by them to ensure that they represents their brand well.
In the past Uber has aligned their identity as an advocate for minorities. In New York, they campaigned that their service afforded more equality than their taxi rivals. According to the Independent Drivers Guild, 90% of Uber drivers in New York are immigrants.
They were prompted to action as a massive Twitter campaign had over 200,000 customers delete their accounts while Uber’s rival, Lyft, had a huge upswing in downloads. Their user base is primarily composed of 70% ages 16-34, an age group that overwhelmingly disproves of the president and most active on social media. It was clearly evident that Uber had to make a strong official response and unambiguously pick a side on the immigration issue.
The public backlash to the perceived profiteering was pivotal to spring the CEO to action. Despite Uber’s announcement of a trust fund and Travis Kalanick’s personal condemnation of the immigration policy his stepping down from the Economic Advisory Board showed the public his willingness to alleviate concerns of Uber users and employees.
The tumultuous political climate makes it as likely to garner public backlash no matter which aisle you stand on, as evidenced by a Starbucks boycott was brewing because of Starbucks pledge to hire refugees. I believe that Uber made the right decision to stick with its employee base, one that is highly affected by the immigration policy. Kalanick’s decision to step down will appeal to their user base, and the company reaffirms their brand of aiding minorities which will undoubtedly benefit their goals of expanding global operations.