Uber complicated employee relations

You may have been aware of the Uber strike which took place earlier this month, on the 8th of May. It was the very first globally coordinated day of action…

…by the drivers who work for the taxi hailing company (in conjunction with another similar company in the States called Lyft) and was organised to send a message to the owners and management that the drivers were significantly dissatisfied with the way they were being treated.

Looking for recognition

The main issue for those who choose to ‘gig’ for Uber is the increasingly poor pay they receive (in some cases less than the living wage) but there are also growing concerns over safety, lack of transparency in company policies and a general failure to recognise the importance of the driver in the whole set up – a fact which we find a little bit strange considering that, until driverless cars become commonplace, they’re really not going to get very far without drivers…

Timing could be devastating or devastatingly wonderful

The timing of the strike is interesting as it comes just before the planned floatation of Uber – an IPO which it is rumoured the company will enter with a $91million valuation. Whilst some of the drivers who organised the action may have chosen the date purposely to evoke maximum reaction from launch- focussed executives, they perhaps failed to realise that an unfortunate side-effect was that the public in general suddenly realised the true value of the service. The Washington Post reported that airport authorities had put some major contingency plans in place in an attempt to minimise the disruption caused by the strike and had even sent out messages to travellers to plan ahead and consider viable alternatives. The action of the authorities is a very obvious and public recognition of the key role that Uber and Lyft play in ‘keeping America moving’ (of course, you can substitute ‘America’ here with any other country, or indeed major city, in the world). What could possible add more to a company’s worth than the fact that the world may not be able to adequately function without it?

Engagement desperately needed

Whatever the overall effect of the drivers’ action on the opening share price, the issue of employee satisfaction – or, more fundamentally, employee engagement – is one which Uber and its competitors must recognise and address. In simply keeping the eyes on the prize (i.e. a successful and lucrative IPO) they may quickly lose the very foundations on which their business is built.  Driverless technology may now be a possibility, but the reality of every taxi-user having access to and having the inclination to use this option is still quite a way off in the future.

With harmony comes value

There may be some elements of the employees’ demands which the management cannot or will not address but, in our experience here at RDZ PR, a significant degree of employee/ employer harmony can be achieved by simply identifying common goals. Good and open communication is of course key to this and the rapid benefit in engagement will, in turn, begin to address the concerns which the worldwide workforce have about areas such as recognition and worth. Our fear, as always, when business relationships break down is that valuable energy and resources are diverted from the most important goal of all which is the development, nurturing and promotion of a company which is valued by the target market. Regardless of whether service users are put off by the thought that employees are treated badly or by the mere fact that strikes make the service unreliable, if they leave in numbers there will be no winners on either side of the Uber divide.

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Rachel Hargrave

Rachel has over 30 years of local, regional, national and international communications experience and expertise across a wide variety of clients including FTSE 100 companies, SMEs, micro businesses and start-ups. She also has extensive charity, Not-For-Profit and Community Interest Company experience and happily offers clients working in these areas a 50% discount on all RDZ PR rates.

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