Kalanick apologized after a video obtained by Bloomberg showed him in a heated exchange with a driver who told the CEO: ‘I’m bankrupt because of you’
Another day, another embarrassing story about Uber.
The embattled ride-hail company logged another controversy on when Bloomberg News published dashcam video of CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with his own Uber driver over the company’s treatment of drivers, prompting a mea culpa from him on Tuesday night.
The video, reportedly taken 5 February, shows Kalanick riding in the back seat, wedged between two female friends, shimmying his shoulders to the strains of Maroon 5.
When the ride ended, driver Fawzi Kamel took the opportunity to share a common driver complaint: “You’re raising the standards, and you’re dropping the prices.”
The pair discussed the state of the ride-hail market for a few moments before Kamel drove his point home. “People are not trusting you any more,” he said. “I lost $97,000 because of you. I’m bankrupt because of you ... You keep changing every day.”
Kalanick denied that the prices for Uber’s high-end service, Uber Black, have fallen that much, saying, “Bullshit.”
Then he got personal with Kamel.
“Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit,” he said. “They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!” Then he slammed the door.
Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else
According to Bloomberg News, Kamel took the opportunity to rate his rider with just a single star.
On Tuesday night, Kalanick apologized for his behavior in the video in an email to Uber staff, which the company also published on its blog.
“To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement,” he wrote. “My job as your leader is to lead … and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away.”
“It’s clear this video is a reflection of me – and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” he added. “This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”
Kalanick’s charged claims about taking responsibility are revealed at a particularly difficult time for the company, whose business model relies on classifying drivers as independent contractors rather than direct employees. That designation, which has long been challenged by labor advocates and drivers, allows the $70bn company to avoid paying minimum wage, overtime, workers compensation and benefits.
In January, the company paid $20m to settle allegations by the Federal Trade Commission that it recruited drivers with false promises about their prospective earnings.
Drivers for Uber Black, such as Kamel, face particular struggles because they are required to drive recent models of select premium vehicles. Drivers earn a higher rate, but they are increasingly competing with Uber’s cheaper UberX rides.
Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, called Kalanick’s interaction with Kamel “heartless” and “appalling”.
“Fawzi Kamel’s plight is far from unique,” she said. “We’ve talked to so many drivers who have been left in insurmountable debt after purchasing or leasing vehicles based on promised income from Uber then unable to make the payments as Uber has slashed fares, increased its commission, and flooded the streets with too many vehicles.”
Though Uber’s treatment of drivers has been publicized and criticized for years, many customers appeared to reach a tipping point in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. Uber appeared to attempt to capitalize on a New York airport strike by taxi drivers – many of whom are Muslim immigrants – prompting widespread outrage and a viral #DeleteUber campaign that reportedly resulted in more than 200,000 customers deleting their accounts.
The turmoil has continued with allegations of widespread sexual harassment and gender discrimination, a lawsuit alleging the theft of trade secrets from Google’s self-driving car company, and most recently, the resignation of a top engineering executive over his alleged failure to disclose a sexual harassment allegation at his prior employer.
On Friday, the New York Times reported that Uber misled the public when it blamed a human driver for running a red light during the company’s self-driving car trial in San Francisco. The car was actually driving itself at the time, according to internal documents obtained by the Times.
Kamel’s release of the Kalanick video will likely draw further scrutiny of the chief executive, whose brash style has been credited with much of the company’s success – as well as its recent troubles.
In a recent op-ed, Ellen Pao, the former Reddit CEO and co-founder of Project Include, voiced the increasingly common concerns about Kalanick’s leadership in the wake of the sexual harassment allegations.
“Now Travis’ every move is being scrutinized, and he can’t win because he waited too long to address these issues,” she wrote. “What has he done to earn the chance to redeem himself?”