For over a month, French Uber drivers have shut down the company's offices across the country. Now, Uber is retaliating: the company has just fired Brahim Ben Ali and his assistant, both some of the protest’s leaders and is threatening legal action against him.
An email sent to Ben Ali and reviewed by Motherboard insisted that Uber’s decision had “nothing to do with the legitimate exercise of a right to express your dissatisfaction with us, to demonstrate or to exercise a right to strike.” Instead Uber accuses him of “intimidating” Uber staff and drivers, “degrading” its offices, “insulting” the company online, and “systematically refus[ing]” to attend discussions it hosted.
After revealing that it filed a formal complaint with the public prosecutor against him, Uber ended the email saying “we reserve the right to exercise all legal remedies in order to put an end to the unlawful disturbance resulting from your actions and obtain full compensation for our damage.”
Ben Ali’s protests, which hundreds of drivers participated in, targeted Uber Greenlight Hubs which are intended to be driver signup and service centers. The protests disrupted the company’s operations in a bid to force Uber to consider the driver's demands. The drivers' demands include increasing base fares and rates to livable levels, allowing drivers to review trip prices and destinations before accepting a ride, stopping the deactivation of drivers for frequently declining unprofitable trips, implementing driver verification to improve safety, capping Uber’s steadily growing fees, greater autonomy over their jobs, and stronger union representation to dispute unfair or false complaints.
“This is revenge,” Ben Ali said. “This is revenge for the protests and their bad publicity, before and after I confronted Steve Salom [Uber France’s General Manager] when he was summoned to testify before the Secretary of Equality about the sexual assaults on Uber.”
Since November, hundreds of French women who were sexually assaulted or harassed by Uber drivers shared their stories on social media. They reached out to Anna Toumazoff, who used her feminist Instagram meme page to share their stories with the hashtag #UberCestOver. All this led to France’s Secretary of Equality Marlène Schiappa summoning Uber's French directors, including Salom, on December 12; Ben Ali led a protest outside the building where Salom was interviewed by French reporters.
“I took videos at every office I was in and they have been checked. There were no threats made against staff or drivers, no defamation against them either, only peaceful protests. ,” Ben Ali told Motherboard. “These accusations exist only in their head.
Ben Ali said he would not back down.
“Uber does not respect our right to demonstrate or our demands as drivers trying to survive,” Ben Ali told Motherboard. “This is an attempt to make an example of me for speaking up. I am a disabled worker, my wife is pregnant with twins, I can’t pay my bills anymore, but I won’t stop. Do not be sorry for me, I fight for the freedom of drivers around the world.”
Ben Ali also said he would take action against Uber itself for its treatment of himself and other drivers.
In a statement to Motherboard, an Uber spokesperson said “We are continuously engaging with drivers to better understand their expectations but we cannot tolerate repeated acts of violence against our teams and premises. We are committed to enhancing the experience for all drivers on our app and will continue to seek feedback and dialogue.”