Miguel Abreu, a ride-hailing driver, bought a Chevy Tahoe for about $80,000 last summer. He spent about $10,000 getting a commercial license and hiring an accountant to set up a luxury Uber Black business, then bought a Mercedes for $90,000 and lined up another driver for that vehicle. Then, in early December, Uber Technologies Inc. deactivated his account.
Abreu, of Lynn, Mass., told MarketWatch the company kicked him off the Uber
app permanently because it suspected he was splitting his account, meaning two people were driving for one account.
One day, Uber asked Abreu to prove he was at the airport, so he sent the company a photo of himself. He was then told the photo’s metadata showed him as being somewhere else. That somewhere else was on an island unreachable by car, pointing to an obvious mistake, he said. Yet after seven years of driving for Uber, he found his account deactivated.
Abreu tried to plead his case a few times by going to the company’s office in Saugus, Mass.
“How could that be?” Abreu said he told Uber. “You know I’m an Uber Black driver. I bought this expensive car; I got a commercial license. I shouldn’t just be deactivated.” Uber Black is the company’s premium service — which, among other things, requires drivers to have higher ratings, commercial licenses and newer cars, and lets passengers reserve rides up to 30 days in advance.
Abreu is just one of many drivers who face deactivations by gig companies like Uber at any moment. The issue is common and widespread enough that some states, such as New York, New Jersey and Washington, have enacted laws that include provisions on deactivation processes. It is mentioned in a proposed ordinance in Chicago, as well as in proposed legislation in Massachusetts — the only state in the nation that conducts an additional background check for drivers in addition to the one carried out by ride-hailing companies, and that also can play a role in deactivations if it deems it necessary.
See: ‘If they can win here, they can win anywhere’: The next battleground for Uber and Lyft is Massachusetts, where drivers are fighting for the right to unionize
Also: ‘Sometimes, there is no way for drivers to prove their innocence’: Rules seek to address apps banning gig workers
Abreu said the person at the Uber office told him he had sent an appeal, and that it had been insufficient to reopen his account. But he hadn’t actually sent an appeal, he said.
“I left the Uber office pretty unhappy,” Abreu said. “I had invested so much in this effort. So I went back to Uber the next day. I was so dumbfounded, I asked them to please check everything.”
He said he tried to figure out what else could’ve contributed to his deactivation. The 42-year-old native of the Dominican Republic had recently become a U.S. citizen. Might that have something to do with it?
“The woman who showed me all the information Uber had said it had to be a mistake because [the photo indicated] ‘you were on an island where cars can’t go,’” Abreu recounted. The woman said she would ask for the decision about his account to be reconsidered, he said.
After a week, he went back to the office and was told his deactivation was final and permanent. Not long after that, he gave up on contacting Uber. He had also driven for Lyft Inc.
so he continued doing that.
This week, MarketWatch asked Uber for comment about Abreu’s situation. Within two days, a spokesperson said the company had reversed its decision to deactivate him, which appeared to be based on suspicion of fraud.
“We approach any deactivation decision with caution and consideration,” spokesperson Austen Radcliff said. “Drivers are also able to appeal eligible deactivations, which includes submitting additional evidence. We’re committed to listening to drivers and continuing to make our processes better.”
Abreu said he was able to return to driving on the Uber app the same day, and plans to try to restart his Uber Black business. He had to sell the Mercedes after his account was deactivated, but he plans to buy a less-expensive vehicle and find another driver for that one. Because it has been months since Abreu’s deactivation, he said, the driver he had previously lined up to drive for his business — essentially becoming his partner and sharing earnings, as he provides the vehicle and commercial insurance — had to find another job.
While Abreu expressed gratitude about being reactivated on Uber, he said what happened to him was arbitrary and calls for action. He said he will continue to support fellow drivers in pushing for proposed legislation in Massachusetts that aims to give drivers collective-bargaining power.
“What happened to me shouldn’t happen to anybody else,” Abreu said. “We need protections.”
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