When The Greenlining Institute joined with other Oaklanders to launch a campaign for Uber to take responsibility for its business practices in Oakland, we got lots of attention — including widespread media coverage and over 1,500 visitors to the campaign website in just the first two days — but also some criticism.
Some of that criticism came from people correctly pointing out that Oakland urgently needs good jobs, and that criticism deserves a response.
One person, for example, wrote:
“We should be joyous that companies want to locate here… How else are jobs going to be created here except by encouraging businesses to locate here?”
Everyone wants good jobs for Oaklanders. And that’s exactly why we need to hold companies like Uber accountable.
From what Uber has said, the company seems likely to employ 200-300 people at first, and possibly many more later. Right now, there’s no guarantee that even one of those jobs will go to anyone who actually lives in Oakland.
If Uber imports workers from Silicon Valley or recruits them from universities where few Oakland students attend, Oaklanders will gain nothing.
Actually, that’s not true. An imported Uber workforce will leave Oaklanders worse off, because those imported, highly-paid workers will compete with Oakland residents for increasingly scarce and pricey housing. And the pressure Uber’s arrival has already put on commercial rents is already costing our city lots of nonprofit jobs that traditionally have belonged to people who live here.
That’s why the Uber community campaign has put jobs front and center. We’ve asked Uber to make concrete, measurable commitments to recruit and hire local workers — both current residents and those who’ve already been driven out by skyrocketing housing costs.
We’ve asked Uber to invest in the training of local workers and students by supporting “pipeline programs” to train Oakland adults and young people for meaningful careers at Uber and other tech companies coming into the area.
And we’ve asked Uber to help preserve and expand the jobs provided by existing Oakland-based businesses by thinking proactively about what vendors it contracts with.
All large companies need to buy lots of goods and services, and Uber will be no exception. If those contracts go to local businesses, that means more jobs for local workers and a stronger homegrown business community.
We agree with our critics that Uber could be good for Oakland, but only if it chooses to act in partnership with Oakland’s residents and businesses.
If it comes in like an invading force — which, to be honest, has been Uber’s business model as it expands its ride-hailing service into new territories — it will leave our city’s workers worse off, not better.
No one wants to turn away companies that could bring jobs to our town, but all we have to do is look across the bay to San Francisco to see what happens when a tech boom includes no social responsibility: Rents and evictions soar, wealthy tech workers displace the nurses, teachers, cooks and plumbers who form the backbone of our communities, and longtime residents end up worse off or get forced out entirely.
No sane person wants that kind of future for Oakland.
A real Oakland jobs agenda must include a meaningful commitment to the local workforce by Uber and other major corporations coming into our city. If you support a real jobs agenda in Oakland, please join us.
Orson Aguilar is president of The Greenlining Institute. Gay Plair Cobb is CEO of Oakland Private Industry Council, Inc.