Uber shuts downtown L.A. office, laying off about 80

Uber has closed a customer support office in downtown Los Angeles, laying off about 80 employees, The Times has learned.

Without advance notice, staffers were informed Thursday their jobs would be shifted to a large customer support office the company maintains in Manila, according to sources who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing severance.

In a recording The Times obtained, Uber manager Ruffin Chevaleau acknowledged that the meeting was called on short notice before delivering the news.

“We have decided to close the downtown L.A. office and we will be moving the outreach and innovation work to our Manila C.O.E., where we can continue to support the business as it grows,” she said, using an abbreviation that means Center of Excellence, the in-house term for customer support hubs. “I know that this is a shock. This meeting is to inform you all that today is the last day in this office.”

The employees were mostly customer support staffers who were paid hourly and focused on driver outreach, with tasks such as processing documents, resolving account issues and explaining incentives and promotions. (Uber considers both drivers and riders its “customers” and supports them out of the same department.) Chevaleau told the workers they would receive severance packages and could apply for jobs within Uber and meet with a recruiter. She said the company would also cover relocation for those who found jobs in other Uber offices.

“This is not easy news to deliver,” Chevaleau, who is a lead at the company’s Phoenix customer support office, said. “It was important for me to be here in person.”

In the months since going public, the ride-hailing company has made a series of cuts to its corporate workforce totaling more than 1,000 workers, including in its marketing, self-driving and engineering departments. Uber and its competitor Lyft have set optimistic goals for attaining profitability to appease investors and cutting operational costs is key to hitting those targets. This month, Uber moved up its timeline to turn a profit to the fourth quarter of 2020 from 2021.

The company’s customer support operation has been through several rounds of restructuring since the early days of Uber. Originally, support operations were run out of local city offices, but the company transitioned to a workforce of largely remote hourly contractors in the U.S. and eventually to contractors in places like the Philippines and India. Simultaneously, Uber began hiring hundreds of full-time workers to staff a customer support center in Phoenix. That center continues to operate.

In July 2017, in response to a social media campaign known as #deleteUber that fed off months of public scandal and eventually culminated in management upheaval and a new chief executive, the company made an effort to improve its relationship with drivers. The company’s then head of U.S. and Canada business, Rachel Holt, identified better driver support as one key to improving relations.

The Santa Monica office where Uber houses operations employees was not affected by these layoffs.