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Uber Finds Itself At The Center Of Ban Protests

by Emily Lee

A small crowd gathered at New York's John F. Kennedy International airport Saturday morning after news broke that two Iraqi refugees were being detained there as a direct result of President Trump's recent executive order. By the end of the night, the airport was packed with people standing in solidarity with the refugees. The protestors spilled into the streets outside the terminal and filled up three stories of a nearby parking garage. Even the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a nonprofit organization that represents New York taxi drivers, joined in by announce announcing a one-hour strike to show their support to the protestors at JFK. However, while many drivers stood by the strike and refused fares, some Uber drivers reportedly continued to pick up riders — a decision that led some on Twitter to protest. Others even began deleting their Uber accounts.

Update: In a follow-up email statement to Romper an Uber spokesperson, sharing comments from Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, wrote: "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: 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."

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance work stoppage was scheduled to take place from 6 p.m. to 7p.m. Eastern Time. The group announced its plans to refuse rides to and from JFK for one hour on its official Facebook page, accompanied by a powerful statement that read:

Drivers stand in solidarity with refugees coming to America in search of peace and safety and with those who are simply trying to return to their homes here in America after traveling abroad. We stand in solidarity with all of our peace-loving neighbors against this inhumane, cruel, and unconstitutional act of pure bigotry.

A little over half an hour after the strike was scheduled to end, Uber's New York Twitter account announced that it would continue picking up fares, but that "surge pricing [had] been turned off at #JFK Airport."

"This may result in longer wait times," the statement on Twitter read. "Please be patient."

However, the company has been clear that the continuation of ride pick-ups had not been implemented until after the strike had ended, and that officials stood in solidarity with the taxi drivers. A spokesperson for Uber told Romper, in an email,

[...] Of course, we did not intend to break up any strike. The call for a work stoppage ended at 7pm, our tweet when out at 7:36pm, after it had ended because we just wanted to let people know that Uber was available, at normal prices, to get to/from JFK, especially on a night like last night. (I'm sure you are aware of the vocal feedback we regularly get when surge is very high during such moments.) And of course drivers using Uber can stop/start working in solidarity with protests whenever they want.

Despite the clarification, and the fact that Uber has promised to "compensate drivers impacted by the [immigration] ban pro bono for next 3 months," some were still upset. One frustrated Twitter user, journalist Dan O'Sullivan, took to the platform to berate Uber for allegedly "breaking a strike to profit off of refugees being consigned to Hell." He quickly followed up with more tweets, using the hashtag #deleteuber and calling for his followers to delete their accounts as well.

As some have pointed out, Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick is a member of Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum, which is a ground of business leaders that will meet with the President to discuss his economic strategy. After the company came under fire for being associated with Trump, however, Slate reported that Kalanick told his employees Uber "would partner with anyone in the world as long as they’re about making transportation in cities better," in an attempt to quell fears that the company would bow to any political pressure.

Uber, along with its competitor Lyft — which issued its own statement on Sunday, noting that it would "donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in response to President Donald Trump’s immigration ban," according to The Hill — isn't the only company in the spotlight at the moment. Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly sent an email out to his employees recently that condemned Trump's executive order to ban refugees from entering the United States. According to The Verge, an email obtained by Recode was sent out to Apple employees, reading:

Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do. I've heard from many of you who are deeply concerned about the executive order issued yesterday restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. I share your concerns. It is not a policy we support. There are employees at Apple who are directly affected by yesterday's immigration order. Our HR, Legal and Security teams are in contact with them, and Apple will do everything we can to support them. We're providing resources on AppleWeb for anyone with questions or concerns about immigration policies. And we have reached out to the White House to explain the negative effect on our coworkers and our company.

Given the heightened tensions surrounding the immigration ban, companies who have found themselves in the limelight in connection to that order will have to navigate through tricky waters to find a way to speak to the already-frightened masses. The backlash to Uber drivers picking up fares, however correct or incorrect it may be, is only proof of that tumultuous relationship.