Let’s talk ethics

The Uber Ethics Question

When I was studying to get my business degree I had to take a class called “Business Ethics.”  It covered many ethical issues and we were presented with “gray areas” that challenged us to think about how situations could or should be handled in real life.

Business ethics relates to how a company conducts business to make a profit.  A business is usually judged to be ethical based on a subjective assessment of it’s services, founding priorities, goals, values, philanthropy, reputation and the way it treats customers and staff.

So let’s take a look at Uber and a recent situation.  Leading up to New Year’s Eve Uber began sending out numerous press releases to each market offering a promo code for free rides up to $20 for first time riders.  The promo codes were sent primarily to law enforcement agencies in an attempt to curb DUI during this holiday normally associated with drinking heavily in celebration.

The news outlets were quick to pick it up.  Locally our reports learned of this “special savings incentive” through the daily news briefing at the police department.  They took it as gospel and ran with it lauding Uber’s generous attempts to help keep drunk drivers off the street.

When the local Uber drivers saw the reports we were outraged!  How could Uber mislead the public into thinking that this “promo for first time riders” was only good for New Year’s Eve!  We know that we all have a promo code for first time riders, up to $20, year round.  It wasn’t a special offer.*  And the fact that someone might think they can’t have a first ride free anytime but New Year’s was infuriating, it might cause us to miss out because some coupon happy person thought they missed the opportunity to use the promo code.

All of us drivers started telling our friends, don’t use that code, use our personal codes! We get incentives for the referral and what driver doesn’t want an extra $5, especially in these over saturated markets.  But as friends tried to use our personal driver codes, we found out that across the US those codes had been deactivated.  That’s right, the personal driver code didn’t work for any driver.  Only the special police department codes worked.  I asked on a couple of national boards and it was across the US.

Why would Uber deactivate all the driver referral codes without notice? Why take away an incentive and not give the drivers a heads up or reason?  Possibly because Uber isn’t an ethical business.

The same thing happened last year (2016) when they ran their “sale” in January and reduced driver pay.  To compensate, in many markets, Uber began to offer incentives that would offset the reduction in pay.  But many drivers found that the rules for obtaining the incentive were difficult.  Uber time and again withheld incentive because of technicalities and drivers complained, emailed support and attempted to get what they felt was earned.

Then, without warning, incentives stopped altogether.  No incentive, pay still reduced, and drivers left to try to find another way to make up the lost income without the benefit of more riders.

So here we are, 2017 in full view and suddenly our referral codes are no longer active.

It seems that Uber is always in the news for one thing or another.  Everything from misleading passengers about tips to the possible mis-classification of drivers as contractors instead of employees.  They are constantly under attack at the state and city level on one front or another because of background checks, fingerprinting and unemployment hearings.

You have to stop and wonder.  If Uber had ethics as a core value, would they be such a target? If they treated their “partners” as a valued part of the larger system would they be so vilified? How difficult would it be to just stop the irresponsible, arrogant corporate culture and start becoming more transparent?  All it would take is communication – which, by the way is a two way street.  Listening as well as speaking.

For the Uber drivers who are binding together in guilds and informal unions, you have the right idea.  For the new CEO who went out as an Uber driver to see what it was like, that was a move in the right direction.  But there is more to be done.

The gig economy is still evolving and it will take more time to work out but when you have a voice big enough, that voice is heard.  While you can choose to do your own thing, go your own way, there is something to be said about being a part of something bigger.  The new year is here, it’s time to make a difference.

If you don’t have a local group, you can start by signing one of these growing petitions and spreading the word.

Any organization can seek to do what it does in a way that is guided by ethical values. Uber should take a look at their guiding principles.


*Personally I spoke with a reporter about the misleading story and told him that the news was incorrect, the code was good all the time.  He looked it up while I was on the phone and said, “You’re right, the same thing was published 3 years ago.”  And he, thankfully, amended the article to read correctly.
About uberg1rl 68 Articles
I've driven for Uber since October 2015, full and part-time. I started helping local drivers with tips and info. I have served as an Ambassador for UZURV, and now I'm an Ambassador for Lyft as well. I also help lead the local rideshare group.

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