Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is stepping down from his role on President Donald Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum of business leaders, citing outside pressure on the company for appearing to support the Trump administration’s executive order banning refugees and certain immigrants.
“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,” Kalanick wrote in an email to his employees, first published by the New York Times and independently confirmed by VICE News. “Immigration and openness to refugees is an important part of our country’s success and, quite honestly, to Uber’s.”
Though it was revealed that Kalanick was joining Trump’s informal business advisory council in December, along with Tesla founder Elon Musk, the pressure ramped up dramatically on Kalanick and Uber over the past week. On Saturday, as protesters swarmed John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to demonstrate against Trump’s refugee ban, Uber tweeted that it would eliminate surge pricing in the area — giving the impression to some that it was breaking with a strike organized by New York taxi drivers.
Very quickly, the hashtag #DeleteUber started trending as thousands of people posted on social media that they were deleting the ride-hailing app from their phones. According to a source inside Uber, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the fracas had a “significant impact” on the company’s U.S. business. Additionally, leadership was worried about how it might impact a $3 million fund for Uber drivers affected by the ban that Uber announced in the wake of the controversy.
The source added that Kalanick told employees he was changing Uber’s internal policies on helping company staff with immigration. This decision came after a Chinese Uber employee asked Kalanick directly on a Tuesday call why the company did not help with expedited “premium processing” for employer-supported immigration petitions (an official process that speeds up how quickly foreign workers can get visas approved).
“It became clear that Kalanick had no idea that was the case, and we got the email today saying they would going forward and would help employees’ families, too,” the source said.
Though Uber has used its considerable political clout — most of it on the Democratic side of the aisle — to steamroll regulators across the country, the company does not appear to have many close allies inside the Trump camp. In fact, Trump confidante Peter Thiel, an investor in Uber’s rival Lyft, has called Uber “the most ethically challenged company in Silicon Valley.” It’s unclear for now what kind of blowback, if any, Kalanick might receive from the Trump White House.
Dan O’Sullivan, a freelance writer credited by the New York Times with helping #DeleteUber go viral, told VICE News that the blowback from Uber users is a warning for other companies that aim to work with the Trump administration.
“Make no mistake: This is a crushing victory for a company that only a week ago saw its CEO, Travis Kalanick, smugly assuring the world that his role advising Trump was in everyone’s best interest. Evidently, something has changed in the past week,” O’Sullivan said. “As for the other 18 members of Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum — including the CEOs of Pepsi, General Motors, SpaceX, Disney, and Walmart: You’re next. Uber will not be the last to suffer for cozying up to Trump.”
A spokesperson for Uber declined to comment.