Uber apologizes for “confusion” at JFK during immigration protest

Uber has apologized today for promoting surge pricing to and from JFK during yesterday’s protest and taxi strike.

After the enactment of an executive order barring refugees and visa holders from seven countries from entering the U.S., protests gathered at JFK International and the NY Taxi Workers Alliance called for a stop on pickups from the airport. Uber said that riders could go to and from JFK without surge pricing, prompting major public backlash that the company was taking advantage of the situation. The whole fiasco led to a trending #deleteuber tag, calling on users to delete the app and switch to alternatives like Lyft.

‘We’re sorry for any confusion about our earlier tweet — it was not meant to break up any strike,” a spokesperson for Uber said. “We wanted people to know they could use Uber to get to and from JFK at normal prices, especially last night.”

Uber was one of the first to come out publicly with a direct and measurable way to address the ban, but the #deleteuber movement is a reminder of how quickly good will can be undone with a communications misfire — especially for the aggressively-expanding Uber. Instead of being perceived as something that would assist riders in the midst of the protest, it was quickly labeled as an attempt to bust the strike. While it’s not clear how large the movement has become, it’s attracted a lot of attention on Twitter and other platforms.

It’s another public stumble for Uber, which has continually faced optics issues as its grown into a nearly $100 billion company. CEO Travis Kalanick was appointed to President Donald Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum in December last year (along with Elon Musk), and as pressure mounts on tech companies to take a stance on Trump’s new policies Kalanick and Uber have been in the public’s crosshairs.

Thousands descended upon JFK last night in protest of the ban, which at one point led to New York governor Andrew Cuomo reversing a decision and allowing the JFK AirTran to continue to operate. The NY Taxi Workers Alliance called for drivers to not pick up passengers from JFK from 6pm to 7pm on Saturday night, which also called on Uber drivers to do the same. The tweet from Uber went out at 7:36pm, meaning it had been initiated after the time cited.

While the comment was seemingly just an FYI for potential passengers trying to get to and from the airport, for Uber it was another misstep in its attempt to build up good will. Uber said today it would create $3 million defense fund to help cover legal, immigration and translation costs for drivers affected by the immigration ban, with Kalanick further clarifying his stance on the ban and calling it “wrong and unjust.”

Uber was quick to respond to the executive order, with Kalanick saying he would address it in President Trump’s first business advisory group meeting. Kalanick also said in a memo to company that it would be identifying drivers affected by the ban and compensate them pro bono during the next three months to cope with the potential fallout from the ban. Uber’s ongoing competitor Lyft also came out strongly against the ban, and said it would donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over the next four years.

Throughout Saturday, executives and prominent members in the tech industry sounded off on the immigration ban — either publicly or through internal communications that became public. It’s been a tricky situation as the largest tech companies in the world find themselves having to find ways to navigate the new administration despite a critical eye on each company’s specific stance on various issues, and Uber in particular has already faced plenty of optics issues even prior to the new administration.