By Katie Siegel
On Jan. 28, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called a strike at John F. Kennedy International Airport, one day after President Trump signed an executive order banning entry of foreign ationals from seven Muslim-majority nations,
including a blanket ban on refugees. The strike
was an act of solidarity with immigrants, and a
public display of the Alliance’s opposition to
the executive order.
Uber, however, continued to service
the airport, tweeting that it would halt
surge pricing during the protests.
Some saw it as an opportunistic ploy
to get more riders to use Uber. A
#deleteUber Twitter campaign was
quickly born, with users tweeting
screen shots of themselves removing
the app from their smartphones.
More than 200,000 were estimated
to have uninstalled the ride-sharing
service over the course of the weekend.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick reacted, creating a $3
million legal defense fund to provide lawyers and immigration
experts for any of its drivers that were barred from the U.S., and
promising that drivers would be compensated for lost wages.
Over the same weekend, in response to the travel ban, Starbucks CEO Howard
Schultz announced that the company would hire 10,000 refugees worldwide over
the next five years. Then it was Starbucks turn to get punished in the public arena.
A #boycottStarbucks campaign was launched by people who felt the company
should focus more on hiring American veterans.
Athletic shoemaker New Balance suffered blowback in November of 2016
when its vice president of communications, Matt LeBretton, told the “Wall Street
Journal” in an interview that he believed “things are going to move in the right
direction” under the new administration. Angry customers began posting pictures
of themselves trashing or even burning their New Balance sneakers.
These social media-fueled public relations crises demonstrate how fickle public
opinion can be. They also serve as warning signs of growing reputational risk for
Uber, for example, typically stops its surge pricing in the event of emergency so
as not to exploit a crisis for its own benefit. To do so during the protests and taxi
strike at JFK was perhaps meant to show its respect for the event.
Starbucks’ 10,000 refugee hires would be spread out across its locations around
Driven by social media,
political wars spill over
into the corporate arena,
the globe, not just in the U.S., where
the coffee conglomerate already promised
to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses by
New Balance’s LeBretton was speaking specifically about
the Trans-Pacific Partnership during his interview, and how the deal could hurt
sneaker production in the U.S. while favoring foreign producers — he wasn’t
talking about Trump’s other proposed plans.
These companies, in reality, did nothing as abhorrent and scandalous as the
Twitterverse may have led some to believe, but context isn’t always provided in
Complaints and boycotts have been launched at companies via social media
for perhaps as long as social media has existed. But the current contentious
environment created by one of the most divisive leaders in American history now
colors every public statement made by prominent business leaders with a political