Uber fires driver for tweeting disparaging article about company

It’s not the first time an employee of a company has been sacked – or in Uber language “deactivated” – for their social media activity, but the case of the Albuquerque Uber driver Christopher Ortiz seems particularly severe.

Ortiz, 33, had worked as an UberX driver for the smartphone taxi app in May and June of this year, before leaving to set up a media startup, Newscastic. When he tried to return to driving to top up his income, Ortiz found his driver account had been “deactivated”.

Uber Operations Manager, John Hamby, explained in an email to Ortiz that he could not drive for the company “due to hateful statements regarding Uber through social media”.

Here is the email Ortiz received:

Photograph: Christopher Ortiz

Ortiz identified the “hateful statements” as this one tweet he had sent in August linking to a Pando Daily article entitled “With another Uber driver robbed in LA, questions mount about safety of ride-sharing apps”.

— Christopher J. Ortiz (@ChrisJOrtiz)
August 25, 2014

Driving for Uber, not much safer than driving a taxi http://t.co/rEJhvYlK4G

In an email to the Guardian, Ortiz wrote that his initial reaction to the email from Uber was to laugh, as it was so “ludicrous”.

Ortiz did not write the article, nor had he added comment when linking to the article.

“That’s the craziest part of this whole thing. They didn’t take into context of the tweet”, he wrote.

“It was very heavy handed. I have mentioned Uber dozens of times in tweets since I last drove for the company – tweeting negative and positive stories. I have several friends who drive and I like sharing stories about Uber with them.”

Asked how he thought Uber had discovered his tweet, Ortiz expressed surprise that the company was monitoring his Twitter account as it had been at least two months since he had worked for them when he posted the tweet.

“But I’m not entirely surprised that they were aware of my Twitter account since I’ve had multiple exchanges with the @Uber_ABQ account while I was a driver (just questions and promoting the service).

“I have no idea when my driver account was deactivated but I’m sure they pulled the plug when they read my ‘hateful comment’”, he added.

Uber’s stance seems uber over the top, especially given drivers are contracted as self-employed rather than full time employees in order to limit Uber’s liability – conditions set out in the company’s legal terms and conditions.

After Ortiz tweeted about his experience to Pando Daily editor Michael Carney on Thursday night and his situation went viral, Uber did a swift U-turn on their decision calling it a “mistake”. The company issued the following statement to the Guardian:

This was an error by the local team and the driver’s account should have never been deactivated. We reactivated the account upon discovering the mistake and we apologise to this highly rated driver partner for the inconvenience.

— Christopher J. Ortiz (@ChrisJOrtiz)
October 17, 2014

I’ve suddenly been approved as a driver. pic.twitter.com/aP77oSlLuH

Oritz has not yet decided whether he will take up Uber’s offer to reactivate his account, but is erring on the side of caution:

“Probably not because it would just be awkward and I like to avoid awkward confrontations. Plus the only reason I wanted to drive again was because the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta was here and I thought there would be a high demand for drivers”.

Ortiz added that the company has not apologised directly to him. Although he did mention that his general experience of working for Uber was positive, aside from an incident where it took a while to recoup money for a smashed wing-mirror.

The main point Oritz makes is the discrepancy between Uber drivers’ status as non-employees and the conditions they are held to.

“I think the scariest thing here is that drivers can be removed from the Uber system if they don’t toe the company line.

“Uber has made it clear that drivers are not employees, they’re independent contractors, but it seems they want to hold drivers to employee standards (speaking negatively about a company online).

“It would be a scary situation if I was depending on Uber as my primary source of income”, he added.

Ortiz’s rating was an impressive 4.8 stars out of five. We’re giving Uber 0 for this debacle.

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