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Uber Office Has Nice Port-a-Potties for 'Employees Only,' Inferior Ones for Drivers

'Employee only' port-a-potties at an Uber service center in Los Angeles are solar powered 'VIP-Single' toilets.

by Edward Ongweso Jr and Jason Koebler
Dec 5 2019, 10:28pm

An Uber driver service facility in Los Angeles has separate port-a-potties for drivers and “employees,” Motherboard has learned. The port-a-potties labeled “Employees Only” are more expensive and nicer than the toilets intended for drivers.

One driver told Motherboard that they were shamed and scolded for trying to use an employee bathroom.

“I was told they are for employees only and to read the signs,” the driver, who asked to remain anonymous because they fear retribution from the company, told Motherboard. “At the moment of reprimand by an Uber employee for attempting to open the wrong port-a-potty, I immediately felt demoralized and definitely segregated.”

Motherboard independently confirmed that there are 4 port-a-potties at the “Greenlight Center,” which is where new drivers sign up to drive for Uber or go to seek in-person troubleshooting if they’re having trouble with the app. Both of the port-a-potties labelled “Employees Only” are gendered in binary fashion, with one being additionally labelled “Men” and the other “Women.” Two other port-a-potties aren’t labeled.

Motherboard called 1st Jon, the company that leases and services the port-a-potties. A customer service representative explained that the “VIP-Single” Uber port-a-potty for employees is a superior product to the “Deluxe,” which does not have restricted access at the Uber facility.

“The VIP Single is a step up from the deluxe,” the customer service representative said. “The VIP Single is like walking into an RV restroom, so it would have running water, a flushable toilet. Paper towels, toilet paper, seat covers.” He explained that it is solar powered, so it’s much like using a normal restroom.

“The Deluxe restroom is, well, it’s a plastic unit. Everything in the toilet is foot operated,” he said. “The sink is foot operated as well.”

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The 1st Jon customer service representative explained that the VIP-Single costs $330 to rent for a weekend event and $445 monthly with included weekly service. The Deluxe, meanwhile, costs $175 for a single event and $270 monthly with included weekly service.

On Wednesday, Uber driver Erika Betts tweeted a photo of two separate bathrooms—one labeled “employee” and one labeled “partner” (what Uber calls drivers)—at an Uber Greenlight Hub in Providence, Rhode Island.

New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez quote-tweeted a Motherboard article about the separate bathrooms in Rhode Island, commenting, “Siri, show me what classism looks like.”

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Uber told Motherboard that the separate bathrooms in the Rhode Island facility were “a mistake and we regret it.” Andrew Macdonald, an Uber exec, tweeted to Betts that “this is not our policy and it’s absolutely unacceptable.”

“That bathroom was also being used for employee storage, but that's not an excuse. I don't believe this is the case anywhere else (and it's certainly not our design policy) but we're doing a full review now,” he added in a second tweet.

That there are separate bathrooms in Los Angeles shows that this is not the case.

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A former employee of a Greenlight Facility in New Orleans told Motherboard that bathrooms there were always a contentious issue while they worked for the company, before a Greenlight Facility opened.

“Before we had a standalone facility for drivers to go to, the drivers used to come to special office hours at the Uber office, where they were not allowed to use employee restrooms... and there wasn't another restroom for them to use,” the employee, who asked to remain anonymous because they signed a non-disclosure agreement with Uber, told Motherboard. “Lines to speak to an employee were long, which meant if you had to use the bathroom, you were screwed. I quit the company after nearly a year because of multiple things like this.”

Do you work at Uber or are you a driver? Do you know of any Greenlight centers or offices with separate bathrooms for drivers and "employees?" Contact Edward Ongweso Jr. at edward.ongweso@vice.com or securely on Signal: 413-225-2938

Considering the fact that Uber and other gig economy startups rely heavily on immigrants and Black or brown people, it’s problematic that Uber takes pains to clarify that drivers should not be treated with the same dignity or respect that white collar employees might. There is, of course, a centuries-long history of racial segregation in the United States, part of which included racially segregated bathrooms.

"That location is a temporary pop-up Greenlight Hub in a parking lot that isn’t managed by our central facilities team, which is why it was missed in our review," an Uber spokesperson told Motherboard. "All facilities for drivers and employees, including bathrooms, should be held to the same standards of quality, regardless of whether they are shared. We are sorry for missing this and will address it immediately."