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Pittsburghers To Protest Uber, Say Company Disregards Public’s Best Interest

Margaret Sun
90.5 WESA
A self-driving Uber car on Liberty Ave. downtown on Thursday, February 2, 2017.

*UPDATED: Feb. 3, 2017 at 10:30 a.m. 

Protesters plan to demonstrate outside of Uber’s Pittsburgh offices in the Strip District Saturday. This will mark the third weekend in a row that local residents have gathered for a protest related to the Trump administration.

Organizers contend that the ride-sharing company attempted to profit off last weekend’s protests in New York City, by offering rides to John F. Kennedy International Airport while taxi drivers were on strike. The strike and protests were in response to an executive order from President Donald Trump banning travel from seven majority Muslim countries.

A boycott of Uber began almost immediately. Activists said that Uber was trying to undermine the protests by turning off surge pricing during the one hour taxi driver work freeze.

"I was very disappointed by Uber's conduct this weekend, and told their CEO so,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement earlier this week. “Uber came here because of the great talent Pittsburgh produces, and the high-tech people we have attracted from around the world. We've held up our end the bargain, but we haven't seen much from Uber. This is a two-way street not a one-way. I need to see more interest from them in our communities, both locally and internationally."

Mayoral spokeswoman Katie O’Malley said Peduto shared his disappointment with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick via text message. She said he also expressed concerns about Kalanick’s participation in Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, an economic advisory board that also includes Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi. NPR reported Thursday night that Kalanick resigned from the advisory board amid criticism. 

NPR reports Kalanick told CEO staff members in an email, "Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that."

Organizers of this weekend’s protest argue that Uber has “fought any attempt to hold it to account to basic standards of safety and liability regulations, labor rights, environmental sustainability, data transparency, and compliance with civil rights laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

After Trump’s executive order on immigration was signed on Saturday, Uber pledged to support drivers affected by the travel ban both legally and financially. According to an email sent to employees, the company will provide 24/7 legal support, compensate drivers for lost earnings and create a $3 million legal defense fund to assist drivers with immigration issues. The company also said it would urge the Trump administration to reinstate the right of U.S. residents to travel.

Uber declined an interview for this story, but said in a statement that the non-surge pricing during the taxi strike was not meant to undermine the protests.

“We are mortified that people believe we turned off surge around JFK to in any way affect the strikes,” the company said.

The statement also said that Kalanick’s prior participation on the Trump advisory council does not signal an endorsement of the administration or its policies, and that “change comes from having a seat at the table and speaking up for what is right.”