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Why Uber Drivers Are Protesting The Company’s CEO: An Explainer

By / 06.18.14
Allen & Co. Media And Technology Conference

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As you may have heard, Uber drivers are taking to the streets, and not to pick you up after a night at the bar. No, they’re protesting their company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, and with good reason. Here’s what’s happening.

What is Uber?

A very useful service wherein you can call a driver through an app, they come to your location, and take you home. It’s slowly expanding across the US, despite some pretty strong legal resistance.

So what did the CEO do, exactly?

He told all his employees that the minute he could replace them with a robot, he was going to. In pretty much exactly those terms.

His excuse is that, hey, this is decades away, which it is, and that Uber has to embrace the future, which involves telling all the people that work for it that they are ruled by somebody who will dispose of them at a moment’s notice. Also, he said that labor is Uber’s biggest expense, so once they fired all the employees, Uber would be cheaper, and it’s just science, people. This would perhaps have more weight if drivers had control over the surge pricing.

Oh come on. You’re making this up. This is a character from Silicon Valley.

Kalanick may seem like a bad satire of Silicon Valley snobbery and arrogance, right down to the Randian pretensions, but let us reassure you, this guy is 100% legit and actually doesn’t realize when he’s cramming his foot in his mouth. Even the usual fawning tech blogosphere can’t stand the guy: He’s been described as bratty and he finds customer complaints hilarious, when he’s not busy being classy on Twitter.

What did the drivers do?

Mostly they just called Kalanick out on his total lack of communication skills. But honestly, this is noise Uber doesn’t need right now. Uber drivers are beginning to consider unionization amid accusations drivers are kept off the road to drive up pricing and that Uber takes too much of their earnings.

How can Uber resolve this?

They can slap a muzzle on Kalanick, which joking aside should have happened years ago now from a PR perspective, or they can just take their licks. But honestly, considering Uber’s near-constant regulatory troubles and the fact that the “sharing economy” is rife with pitfalls, Kalanick might want to consider getting that muzzle fitted.

Should I use Uber?

Until the taxi laws in your city are brought into the modern era and Uber is made irrelevant by its own arrogance, yeah, you probably should. The sad fact of the matter is that Kalanick is a joke, but he’s still better than the sometimes staggeringly corrupt alternative. Hey, at least he’s honest about how he’s exploiting his workers. That’s progress, right?


TAGSexplainersnot sure if serious or satirePROTESTStravis kalanickuber

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