Uber CEO Travis Kalanick quits Trump's economic advisory council

Last Updated Feb 2, 2017 10:42 PM EST

Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick has resigned from President Donald Trump’s economic advisory council in the wake of blistering criticism on social media of his participation on the White House panel of top business executives.

Kalanick informed Uber’s employees of his decision in a memo published Thursday. 

“Earlier today I spoke briefly with the President about the immigration executive order and its issues for our community. I also let him know that I would not be able to participate on his economic council,” Kalanick’s memo stated. 

“Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that,” the memo continued. “The implicit assumption that Uber (or I) was somehow endorsing the Administration’s agenda has created a perception-reality gap between who people think we are, and who we actually are. The executive order is hurting many people in communities all across America. Families are being separated, people are stranded overseas and there’s a growing fear the U.S. is no longer a place that welcomes immigrants.”

A White House official told CBS News that “as a businessman himself, President Trump understands the importance of an open dialogue with fellow business leaders to discuss how to best make our nation’s economy stronger.”

“The president looks forward to tomorrow’s meeting with executives from some of our country’s most successful companies and continuing an open line of communication with the business community to ensure more opportunities for all Americans,” the White House official said. 

Uber came under fire last Saturday when it quit offering surge pricing after members of the Taxi Worker’s Alliance joined protests at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport over Mr. Trump’s executive order restricting immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries that the administration cited as national security concerns. Complaints soon flooded Twitter (TWTR), accusing San Francisco-based Uber of profiting off protesting cab drivers by cutting prices, a charge that Uber denied.

Critics, however, weren’t impressed. Some Twitter users posted pictures of themselves deleting the Uber app and installing the app of ride-sharing compeitor Lyft. To make matters more difficult, some users couldn’t immediately shed the Uber app: the company was inundated with so many account deletions that it had to figure out how to automate the process.

Kalanick had already angered some opponents of Mr. Trump because of his involvement with the administration through his participation on the advisory council. However, Kalanick soon spoke out against the administration’s immigration restrictions in a Facebook post, calling them “unjust.” He vowed to compensate workers for their lost earnings. He also created a $3 million dollar legal defense fund for affected drivers. 

Kalanick has never met Mr. Trump in person, an Uber spokesperson noted.

The controversy is affecting the ride-hailing companies though its long-term impact isn’t clear. Uber is much larger than Lyft, with a valuation topping $60 billion, while its rival’s value is estimated at less than $10 billion.

The full text of the memo follows: 

Dear Team,

Earlier today I spoke briefly with the President about the immigration executive order and its issues for our community. I also let him know that I would not be able to participate on his economic council. Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this and mapping it to our values. There are a couple that are particularly relevant:

Inside Out - The implicit assumption that Uber (or I) was somehow endorsing the Administration’s agenda has created a perception-reality gap between who people think we are, and who we actually are.

Just Change - We must believe that the actions we take ultimately move the ball forward. There are many ways we will continue to advocate for just change on immigration but staying on the council was going to get in the way of that. The executive order is hurting many people in communities all across America. Families are being separated, people are stranded overseas and there’s a growing fear the U.S. is no longer a place that welcomes immigrants.

Immigration and openness to refugees is an important part of our country’s success and quite honestly to Uber’s. I am incredibly proud to work directly with people like Thuan and Emil, both of whom were refugees who came here to build a better life for themselves. I know it has been a tough week for many of you and your families, as well as many thousands of drivers whose stories are heartfelt and heart-wrenching.

Please know, your questions and stories on Tuesday, along with what I heard from drivers, have kept me resilient and reminded me of one of our most essential cultural values, Be Yourself. We will fight for the rights of immigrants in our communities so that each of us can be who we are with optimism and hope for the future.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.