Uber ‘We Want Local’
Uber has a message for Oakland: It wants to be a good neighbor. The ride-hailing company is 18 months away from moving into its East Bay headquarters in Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood, but it is reaching out to locals about jobs and business opportunities at the site.
Oakland activists and nonprofits have a message for Uber: They want specific commitments about how it will promote diversity and hire local residents, and they want it to help offset any displacement its presence causes. Once the world’s most valuable startup sets up shop at 1955 Broadway, it will be among the city’s largest employers.
Uber held an outreach meeting, its third so far, on Thursday at Oakstop, a co-working space a block from Uptown Station, the building that it purchased for $123.5 million a year ago. About 60 people, mainly Oakland small-business owners and building-trade contractors, many of them minorities, packed into an upstairs room ringed with dozens of portraits and quotations from Malcolm X to hear from Uber and its construction partners.
“An office of 2,000 or 3,000 people uses a lot of stuff,” said Adony Beniares, head of global workplaces for Uber and project manager for Uptown Station. “We want to leverage local vendors.”
For now, those locals need to be in the building trades, as the massive renovation proceeds. Truebeck Construction, which runs the project, said it wants to hire Oakland residents as subcontractors and will give preferences to ones who live in West and far East Oakland. It’s working with local training centers to find qualified applicants.
Although Uber won’t move in until 2018, next year it will start seeking people and businesses for work once the building is open, in fields like maintenance, food services and security.
Uber is among a handful of major tech companies that have not shared information on the racial and gender makeup of its headquarters workforce. A spokeswoman said Uber does plan to do so, but does not have a specific timeline.
A study this week showed that some Uber and Lyft drivers in Seattle and Boston, who are independent contractors, exhibited bias against blacks and women. Both companies said they don’t tolerate discrimination, but have yet to say how they will address the issue.
“It’s great to see some head folks and decisions makers here” at Thursday’s event, said Danielle Beavers, diversity and inclusion director at Greenlining. “But I’m dubious about using ZIP codes as a proxy for who benefits from the outreach. I want to see an intentional strategy for diversity, especially in light of the (drivers) study this week.”
“We are committed to local hiring and local suppliers as much as possible,” Medina said. “Because Oakland is so diverse, that’s reflected well in our outreach so far.”
Several people raised other issues before and after the meeting. Some fear that the influx of tech workers could further exacerbate Oakland’s rapidly rising rents and home prices.
“It’s critical to know what the housing is going to be like, where will these people live,” said Reba Middleton, president of a real estate brokers group. “Will they have to commute from Sacramento or Stockton?”
The eight-story Uptown Station will have 330,000 square feet of office space to be occupied by up to 3,000 Uber employees. The vast majority have not yet been hired, and will work in a range of departments such as engineering, marketing, legal and facilities, Beniares said.
The Oakland location will be a co-headquarters along with a 423,000-square-foot space that Uber is building in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood. Uber also has a Palo Alto office that it subleases from VMware, and a South of Market garage for its Otto autonomous-truck subsidiary.
Uptown Station’s ground floor, which will have a direct entrance to the 19th Street BART Station, will feature 50,000 square feet of retail space. Uber said local businesses will get preference there.