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Uber has to find a new CEO. The company also needs to repair the relationship it has with its drivers, which leaders say is broken. So Uber is changing its harsh policies around firing, and it's launching a new telephone hotline. NPR's Aarti Shahani has more.
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Today, as part of an ongoing effort called 180 Days of Change, Uber is reforming its three strikes law. Before, a driver with three complaints of dangerous driving would be terminated even if the driver had completed 10,000 rides that were five-star perfect. Now Janelle Sallenave, who heads driver relations, explains Uber is tweaking its firing formula to consider several factors.
JANELLE SALLENAVE: How long you've been driving, your ratings, when you've received these reports of dangerous driving, who are the people making those reports.
SHAHANI: So the decision to deactivate someone, as Uber calls it, is still made by software, but the formula is more complex.
SALLENAVE: It went from a hammer to a much finer scalpel.
SHAHANI: More than half a million people a month in the U.S. drive for Uber. The company has not disclosed numbers on turnover - how many choose to leave the platform every month. But as Sallenave acknowledges, in the gig economy it's easy to leave, to switch from Uber to competitor Lyft or a food delivery service. Uber is also working to replicate an appeals panel that the company piloted in Seattle for drivers who believe they've been unfairly terminated.
SALLENAVE: These are going to be really important ways that we can differentiate ourselves from other choices that they have.
SHAHANI: Sallenave says she convinced the executive leadership team, which is steering the ship while the Uber board looks for a new CEO, to approve the creation of a phone hotline. Until now, Uber has not had a direct number for drivers to call, even in emergencies like when a driver gets in a car accident or gets attacked by a passenger. In June, NPR reported on the difficulties this omission has created for drivers in a series called "The Faceless Boss." Sallenave agrees with that description.
SALLENAVE: As we've grown into a global scalable company, we need to move away from the facelessness of what the company has inadvertently become.
SHAHANI: Drivers have welcomed Uber's previous overtures, such as the move to allow in-app tipping, but it's not yet clear if this effort will inspire loyalty. Dawn Gearhart, policy coordinator with the Teamsters Local 117 in Seattle, says Uber is feeling pressure on every front - not just from competitors, but also from efforts to organize drivers. When a company feels threatened by labor unions such as hers, she says, it's standard practice to dole out small wins to workers.
DAWN GEARHART: And these things are not happening because somebody at the company woke up and they decided they were feeling better about the workers. They just want to make sure that they maintain the balance of power.
SHAHANI: She also says that in recent weeks, some Uber drivers are earning less per ride because Uber changed its fare structure. A study commissioned by Uber indicates that even when fares go down, drivers' earnings remain stable because demand for rides is up. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, San Francisco.
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