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Jobs + Skills09.18.14

Uber Seeks to Put Veterans in the Driver’s Seat

Midmarket car service Uber is calling for military vets to apply to be drivers and reverse the tide of high unemployment among that sector.

On the heels of a major tactical positioning for growth which landed Obama’s former chief strategist in the executive suite, on-demand service Uber is mounting a campaign for tackling the tough problem of getting veterans jobs.

Cofounder Travis Kalanick took to the pages of Politico (with coauthor Robert Gates who served as secretary of defense between 2006-2011) to flog UberMILITARY.

Over the next 18 months, Uber will bring 50,000 service members, veterans and military spouses onto the Uber platform as drivers, empowering them as entrepreneurs and small business owners,” they write. Uber claims to already employ former service members and say “they consistently rank among our top-rated partner-drivers and make more trips with Uber than non-veteran partners.

The authors point out that national unemployment for vets under the age of 25 is still north of 20% – three times the national average. It’s a noble effort to be sure, as no company wants to be viewed as being unsupportive of our military. The timing, however, complicates Uber’s effort.

The company has been accused of dirty business practices by rival Lyft, which claimed that Uber drivers were booking and rapidly canceling pickups to the tune of over 5,000 rides. Uber “brand ambassadors” carrying burner phones and company credit cards were allegedly also booking Lyft rides and using them to poach drivers for Uber.

Uber’s also been hit with a series of lawsuits by taxi commissions. In June, the company got slapped with a class action suit for exploiting drivers, which charges that the company makes its drivers independent contractors to avoid paying them the same as employees with benefits.

Ironically, UberMILITARY touts that independent status as a selling point. “Driving with Uber represents a unique entrepreneurial opportunity for the military community – with thousands of veterans already taking part,” the Politico article states. “Partners on the Uber platform enjoy tremendous flexibility. Many who begin driving with a single car end up owning and managing a fleet of vehicles. All drivers are their own boss from day one: they set their own hours with immediate access to customers and a steady and growing income. Particularly for military spouses who struggle with joblessness due to frequent relocations — eight moves on average over a 20-year career — Uber represents an inherently portable form of income generation.”

Perhaps putting military muscle behind this outreach effort will help Uber polish up its image. In addition to Gates, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen and the former commander of forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal will join Uber’s veterans committee.

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