The discovery came via Erika Betts, an Uber driver who visited a Greenlight Hub office in Providence, Rhode Island. Greenlight Hubs are offices where new drivers can get help starting off, and where current drivers can go for in-person support. Betts posted a picture to Twitter of the segregated bathrooms, commenting “Anyone else think it’s strange that Uber views partners & employees as two separate classes of people?”
It’s not clear whether this is a nationwide policy for all Greenlight Hubs or an isolated incident at one regional office. On the one hand, the signs in the photo appear to be commercially made, implying someone in the office put some thought into it. Gizmodo reached out to Uber for clarification, and a spokesperson directed us to a tweet from Andrew Macdonald, Uber’s senior vice president of global rides and platform operations. In it, MacDonald said the bathroom doubled as employee storage and acknowledged that it wasn’t a very good excuse. “I don’t believe this is the case anywhere else (and it’s certainly not our design policy) but we’re doing a full review now.”
As for the Providence office, Uber has already committed to taking the signs down. In response to Betts’s original tweet, Macdonald replied “This is not our policy and it’s absolutely unacceptable. The signs are coming down today.” Likewise, Uber told Motherboard in a statement that “This was a mistake and we regret it. We are removing the signs and have made it clear that this was not appropriate.”
Still, it’s clear the tweet struck a nerve—as it should, given this country’s history with segregated bathrooms, first with racial segregation and more recently gender. Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also took a jab at Uber on Twitter over the matter, commenting “Siri, show me what classism looks like.”
“I’ve always noticed the bathroom division within the Greenlight Hub and always felt uncomfortable about it,” Betts told Gizmodo. “I feel Uber could be treating its drivers much better, considering drivers make up a significant portion of the company’s success.”
At the core of the issue is Uber has argued that drivers should not be classified as employees but independent contractors. Given that, it’s hard to believe the separate bathrooms are not a subconscious reflection of its attitude toward its drivers. In Uber’s own words, its business “would be adversely affected if Drivers were classified as employees instead of independent contractors.” It didn’t help that the U.S. National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of Uber earlier in May. On the bright side, California recently signed a bill into law that might one day give gig workers—like Uber drivers—full employee status.
Update, 12/05/2019, 1:10 pm: Added comment from Erika Betts.