Uber Fighting with Drivers Again

Uber Fighting with Drivers Again

Uber had a great business plan that met a huge felt need, especially for younger urban dwellers who loved technology, didn’t have cars and were tired of having to depend on taxis for transportation. The app-based service has exploded in popularity in nearly every place it’s opened for business … and, in most of those places the company has had to fight for its business life.

Taxi companies and transportation unions hate Uber, of course. And local governments have not been too terribly open to allowing the business model to come into their communities. In most cases, Uber has prevailed, opening the way for it and its chief competition, Lyft, to thrive.

PR has certainly helped Uber in that pursuit of success. People love an underdog, and they hate it when government tries to restrict something they love and something they’ve grown accustomed to. This dynamic has placed Uber on the “right” side of just about every PR issue the company has faced … until recently.

Very public fights with drivers over benefits and pay have given Uber a considerable black eye in the PR sphere. The company remains very popular, but its success sometimes appears to be coming at the expense of drivers. Now, that may not be true in any way, shape or form, but this is not about reality … it’s about perception. And the headlines that pit mega-success Uber against single moms and college kids just trying to make a buck are not very flattering.

Recently, a video dropped that amped that antagonism up to an unprecedented level. In the video, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is seen arguing about compensation with driver Fawzi Kamel.

The context is simple: Uber drivers have seen their pay reduced as the company tries to cut prices to stay competitive. But most consumers aren’t really buying that argument … and it doesn’t help that the video is anything but flattering. In it, Fawzi and Kalanick argue, setting up the classic David and Goliath underdog angle. There’s yelling and profanity and escalation. Combativeness and very little listening. Fawzi tells Kalanick that the steep decline in his pay forced him to declare bankruptcy. Kalanick loudly and insistently dismisses these claims.

Drivers already felt that Uber was more concerned about their profits than their driver’s ability to survive on what they were being paid. While there wasn’t too much sympathy in the public for this view – after all, no one was forcing them to drive for Uber, and people loved the cheap fares – this video has shifted the dial on that sentiment. Kalanick comes off as angry and disconnected, refusing to hear his desperate employee.

That’s not a good look for anyone, and it’s doubly disastrous for a company whose target market is largely Millennial. They don’t want to see anyone treated as Fawzi was treated, and they’re not showing Kalanick much love as a result.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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