The future may not belong to Uber after all. The app-based transportation company is in what amounts to an all-out war for its survival. Uber Technologies Inc. is battling unions, state governments, the press, and almost everybody else just to stay in business.
Unions Fight Each Other to Organize Uber Drivers
The most important battle could be unfolding in New York, where the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (or IBEW) has asked for an election to organize 600 Uber drivers at La Guardia Airport, The International Business Times reported. Strangely enough, those efforts are being opposed by a rival union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (or IAM), which also wants to represent the Uber drivers.
The two unions are fighting over the right to represent the drivers and collect dues from them at the National Labor Relations Board. The real cause of the dispute could be that both unions want access to a potentially big new pool of recruits.
In Seattle, a similar battle has taken a different turn. There, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has filed a federal lawsuit, challenging a city ordinance that gives Uber and Lyft drivers the right to unionize, Geekwire reported. The Chamber is charging that the ordinance violates the National Labor Relations Act, which makes it illegal for independent contractors such as Uber drivers from engaging in collective bargaining.
Uber Tries to Pressure State Legislators with an App
Uber has created a new app designed to put pressure on the president of Florida’s State Senate, Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando). Gardiner has apparently been blocking a vote on a bill that would prevent local governments from requiring background checks and insurance for Uber drivers.
Uber has been engaged in nasty battles with a number of city and county governments in the Sunshine State, including that in Orlando. The service has been effectively banned from airports in Palm Beach and Orlando. The bill Gardiner is blocking would allow it to operate in those areas again.
The VOTE app would apparently encourage Uber users to send social media messages to State Senators urging a vote. Without a vote, Uber might be forced to pull out of Florida and lucrative tourist markets.
Documents Allege Thousands of Sexual Assault and Rape Complaints at Uber
BuzzFeed News discovered that Uber received thousands of complaints about sexual assault or similar misconduct on the part of its drivers.
Screenshots that purport to show figures from Uber’s database show 6,160 customer support tickets related to “sexual assault” and 5,827 tickets related to rape between December 2012 and August 2015. The shots were apparently provided to BuzzFeed News by a former Uber customer service representative who was not identified.
If the data is accurate, it would contradict Uber’s claims that it had received just five claims of rape and 170 claims of sexual assault during the period. BuzzFeed provided no evidence that the numbers were connected to any criminal investigations or substantiated allegation against the company or its drivers.
The screenshots show that Uber could have a major problem that could be the subject of lawsuits. Uber seems to be aware of the problem; a press release indicates that it has hired attorney Joe Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor, to put together a Trust and Safety team to deal with it.
The data BuzzFeed found is filled with errors and seems to cast many incidents, that were not really rapes or sexually assaults, as something wrong, Uber alleged. For example, it claimed that many of the tickets referred to misspellings of the word “rate” as a rape and names such as “Draper” that sound like rape.
“After analyzing the data, we found more than 11,000 rider names and 17,500 rider emails with the letters “rape”,” Uber’s press release noted.
Still, it looks as if Uber has some big problems. One has to wonder how this service could be worth $62.5 billion more than Ford or General Motors with all its problems. Perhaps venture capitalists and investment bankers should spend more time reading the news and less time listening to Uber’s pitchmen.