Uber chief says he must ‘grow up’ after he was caught arguing with one of his drivers

Travis Kalanick, Uber chief executive
Travis Kalanick, Uber chief executive
Uber’s CEO acknowledged he needed to ‘grow up’ after he was caught in an embarrassing video arguing with one of his company’s drivers over pay, in a snowballing public relations scandal that has beset the company.

Travis Kalanick, chief executive officer of Uber, has seen the company undergo a turbulent period as it tries to quash damaging allegations concerning toxic workplace conditions and ongoing disputes about pay. But yesterday the 40-year-old found himself at the very centre of the PR storm, having to apologise for his own improper behaviour.

While taking a ride in an Uber, Kalanick was recorded on a dash cam arguing with his driver about Uber fares.

In the video, the driver tells Kalanick that “people are not trusting you anymore”, and complains that the company’s push to lower fares is costing drivers money.

“I’m bankrupt because of you,” the driver is heard telling the CEO after he claims he’s lost $97,000 .

The video, which was filmed in February and published by Bloomberg News, shows Kalanick lashing out at the driver saying that some people “blame everything in their life on somebody else” and that they should take responsibility for “their own shit”.

In an act of contrition, Kalanick later issued a written statement to his employees apologising to the Uber driver, Fawzi Kamel, and saying he needed to ‘grow up’.

The video has further tarnished the ride-sharing company’s public image that in recent months has taken a battering. A New York Times report last Friday depicted a culture at Uber in which workers were pitted against one another and where top performers who misbehaved could do so without impunity.

Sexual harassment and sexism

Only last week it emerged that Uber was facing allegations of sexual harassment and workplace sexism from a former female Uber engineer. Susan Fowler, who published an essay about her year working for Uber, said her career had suffered a blow after she made a complaint concerning sexual advances from her boss to human resources. She alleges her complaint was ignored because her boss was a high performer.

At the behest of Kalanick an independent investigation was initiated and a lawyer was hired to review workplace conditions.

But the company has been dogged by other allegations of sexual impropriety.

In a separate incident on Tuesday, an engineering executive, Amit Singhal, was forced to leave Uber five weeks after his appointment had been announced. It emerged in an online tech publication, Recode, that he had left his former job at Google because of an accusation of sexual harassment.

Singhal denied the allegation and said he left Google a year ago for his own reasons.

Uber has also been accused of corporate theft when last week Alphabet Inc’s self-driving vehicle unit Waymo sued Uber for allegedly stealing its technology. Uber has denied the claim. Alphabet Inc is a subsidiary of Google,

Driver grievances

Uber drivers in France mounted their own protests against the California-based company when last December they blockaded the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, in a dispute over pay. Uber increased commissions from its drivers from 20 percent to 25 percent while refusing to increase its fares. Drivers argued they could not afford to hand over an extra 5 percent of their takings when they were already making as little as €3.75 an hour.

In London, Uber is in the middle of fighting regulators who plan to have drivers undergo English reading and writing tests, something that could force many of its drivers to lose their licences.

Uber launched legal action in August after public body Transport for London (TfL) said that drivers should have to prove their ability to communicate in English.

“It produces the profoundest of human effects. At one extreme it will lead to the loss of livelihood,” Uber’s lawyer Thomas de la Mare told the High Court in London.

According to TfL there are over 110,000 private hire drivers in the British capital but if the language test is imposed it’s estimated that around 33,000 of them would fail to pass the renewal test.

The High Court is hearing the case until Thursday, although it might be some weeks before its ruling.

For Kalanick, his mea culpa moment appears to have signaled a personal revelation.

“It’s clear this video is a reflection of me – and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it,” he wrote.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)