Hmmmm. This story from San Francisco will sound awfully familiar to anyone who read about Seattle Uber driver Takele Gobena, who was kicked off Uber's system in August the same day he spoke out at a press conference about Uber's low wages. From the San Francisco Examiner this week:
An Uber driver who critiqued the company’s top-brass at a highly publicized event now tells the San Francisco Examiner he’s facing backlash from the tech company.
Last Friday Eric Barajas, a Bay Area-based Uber driver who works in San Francisco, leveled criticism to Uber which garnered exposure in national news. The next day, he said, he was unable to get fares via the Uber app.
And this time, Uber got caught using the exact same excuse they used for Gobena's deactivation—hey, it's not retaliation, it's just a paperwork glitch. In both instances, Uber told reporters who were investigating retaliation by the companies that the drivers were blocked from picking up passengers due to expired insurance cards. And both times, drivers could prove to reporters that their insurance was still valid and up to date. It's creepily similar:
“It looks like some documents are expired or missing from your account,” an email from Uber read, specifically mentioning his insurance. Barajas showed this to the Examiner. But in another screenshot from Uber’s records that Barajas showed the Examiner, documentation clearly shows his car insurance expires in April 2016.
Uber's Kate Downen says Gobena got that text because he had indicated on his account that his insurance was going to expire on September 1. Gobena denies that. According to a Geico insurance ID card, a photo of which Gobena shared with The Stranger, his policy is good until December 12.
Just like Gobena, Barajas had spoken out publicly about Uber drivers' sub-minimum wage pay. And just like Gobena, Barajas faced almost immediate retaliation from Uber, as soon as his story got attention in the press.
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In Barajas's case, he got up to the microphone at a public event and told big-shot Uber adviser David Plouffe that drivers were "struggling to make ends meet, barely making minimum wage." He also told Plouffe he was worried that Uber might retaliate against him for speaking out. Plouffe assured him that wouldn't happen. And later that day, an Uber rep left Barajas a voicemail, promising that "we’d never deactivate a driver for… speaking up."
And sure, when he opened his app the next day, he hadn't been deactivated. But a funny thing happened: He wasn't getting any ride requests. None at all. For five hours on a weekend day, he didn't get a single ping from a passenger needing a pickup. When he eventually took his story to the SF Examiner, the same thing happened: Sitting in the newspaper's office in the middle of downtown San Francisco, he activated his app, and while they sat there for 20 minutes, he got zero ride requests.
Again, just like when Gobena got deactivated in August and he told reporters what had happened, once reporters in San Francisco started contacting Uber about Barajas's shady de facto deactivation, Uber backpedaled hard, claiming it was just a little mixup over insurance documents. They gave the Examiner that line about Barajas's insurance documents being expired or missing—even though he could show the reporter proof of his valid insurance.
Maybe Uber's just running out of ideas? Using the same fake excuses for retaliating against drivers who speak up about low wages really isn't all that innovative.