A number of local leaders and nonprofit organizations in Oakland are kicking off a public discussion about how to “pull Uber over to the side of the road” – to demand that the global corporation provide benefits to offset the negative impacts that it and other large tech companies are having on the economy and quality of life in Oakland and surrounding cities.
The initial meeting, sponsored by the Greenling Institute and the Oakland Post Newspaper, was held last Friday in the offices of PolicyLink in downtown Oakland.
According to speakers at the community meeting, Uber has an estimated value of $65 billion and is holding $13 billion in cash.
Uber has a reputation as a company that does not believe in philanthropy and is one of the few technology giants that has refused to release employee diversity data, said Greenling Institute President Orson Aguilar.
“We know that cities with a large tech sector also lead on all indicators related to wealth inequality, especially racial wealth inequality,” Aguilar said.
“We want to change this narrative in Oakland, and it starts with requiring that Uber commit to a sizable community benefits agreement to Oakland’s diverse residents,” he said.
Post Publisher Paul Cobb said the community has a right to demand that Uber put up $100 million to provide affordable housing, jobs and nonprofit office space that the company is disrupting.
“They have invaded the housing market and driven up the prices,” said Cobb. “They need to cure that.”
PolicyLink Senior Fellow Joe Brooks said that the work that the community does to pressure Uber can serve as a model for how to deal with global tech giants that move into communities.
“Whatever we do to demand corporate responsibility from Uber will serve as a template, as an analysis of the connections that corporate firms have and their impact on long term affordability.”
Junious Williams of Oakland Community Land Trust said the City of Oakland is responsible for not holding Uber accountable to date.
“Where is the obligation of the city to make sure the interests of the people of Oakland are considered?” he asked.
A number of the speakers talked about the conditions faced by Uber drivers, who often must work 12 hours a day, seven days a week just to make a little more than the cost of their car note. They do not receive health or pension benefits.
Speakers also said that in addition to drivers, Uber has many other workers and should support jobs and training for the long-term unemployed and formerly incarcerated.
Cobb said this type of organizing is necessary for communities to benefit from the global economy.
“(This organizing) will go around the world – we can introduce a new view on how profits should be dispersed,” he said. “We need millions of dollars for affordable housing, to finance nonprofits to do their work and to pay for jobs and training for the formerly incarcerated.”
“If they don’t want to mitigate the economic disruption and the gentrification pressures with a substantial community benefits package, they should not be able to operate in this city,” said Cobb.
Friday’s meeting was the the first of many with several dozen Oakland leaders to gather input from those impacted by Uber’s move to Oakland.
Many of those in the room were nonprofit leaders already feeling the pain of displacement and gentrification that burst when Uber made its announcement, said Aguilar.
Several ideas were generated as possible next steps, including the suggestion that community leaders obtain a meeting with Uber’s CEO.