Eight former SpaceX employees have filed labor law complaints alleging Elon Musk wrongfully fired employees after the space company wrote a letter to company management asking them to publicly denounce Musk’s “harmful” behavior on social media.
Former employees claim that SpaceX fired them for engaging in “consensual protected activities.” Those protected activities include drafting an open letter in June that claimed SpaceX’s “current systems and culture are inconsistent with its stated values.” According to a copy of the letter attached to one of the complaints, the former employees claim that Musk’s public comments were “frequently a source of distraction and embarrassment to us.”
SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment and has not responded to routine inquiries from reporters for years.
The company founded by Musk in 2002 is one of the most influential and powerful commercial space companies in the world. It has multibillion-dollar contracts with the US military and NASA, including contracts to deliver astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, as well as a contract to ferry astronauts to the surface of the Moon as part of the space agency’s flagship Artemis program.
The existence of the letter, signed by at least 400 other employees, was first reported by The Verge, and the New York Times reported Thursday that eight of the nine employees were fired for their involvement in the development or sharing of the project. the letter presented formal NLRB complaints. SpaceX has about 10,000 employees, according to the NLRB complaint.
An attorney representing Paige Holland-Thielen, a SpaceX employee who serves as a senior avionics operations and automation engineer, sent a copy of the complaint to CNN and said the allegations in the other seven complaints are “substantially identical.”
Of the eight employees who claimed wrongdoing, only Holland-Thielen and former SpaceX chief engineer Tom Moline agreed to go on the record.
Holland-Thielen said in a statement that she “experienced deep cultural issues first-hand and spent countless hours comforting my peers and colleagues who were going through the same things and worse.
“We drafted this letter to address the executive staff on their terms and show how their inaction poses significant obstacles to the long-term success of the mission,” he said. “We never imagined that SpaceX would fire us for trying to help the company succeed.”
Moline said management used an “ends justifies the means” philosophy to condone ongoing mistreatment, harassment and abuse reported by colleagues, many of which were directly inspired by the words and actions of the CEO.
“I hope that this … lawsuit will demonstrate that no one is above the law, and that SpaceXers will continue to speak up and fight for a better, fairer workplace,” Moline said.
In their letter, they asked SpaceX management to make clear that Musk’s statements — particularly on Twitter — did not reflect the views or values of the company or its employees, and said SpaceX’s “No Ass” policy was applied unevenly.
SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell described the No Ass policy in a speech last year, saying, “Those kinds of people—arses—interrupt others; they close the conversation or make a shared choice; and they create a hostile environment where no one wants to contribute. … Accept the ideas of your colleagues, especially when they are very different from your own.”
A few weeks before the letter, Musk tweeted about it he scoffed Newly emerged reports that he exposed himself to a female flight attendant on a private jet (he also called the allegations “lie“); proposed to create a university with the acronym “TITS”; He made sexual jokes at the expense of the Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and a US Senator; turned out to be false pronouns and gay pride flags during pride month; placed a meme rejected the idea that “mansplaining” existed and else He compared the Prime Minister of Canada to Hitler. This was also the time when Musk was involved in the “will not” phase of his decision to buy Twitter.
The letter was circulated among employees before being sent to management, and SpaceX’s chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, responded in an email to employees, claiming that a survey revealed “many were concerned” about the letter and signature requirements.
“That is, the letter, demands, and overall process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated, and insulted and/or angry because the letter forced them to sign something that did not reflect their opinions,” Shotwell said in a June 16 email.
On the day the letter was sent, Holland-Thielen and four others were fired, according to the NLRB complaint.
“After this initial wave of illegal retaliation, over the next two months, SpaceX continued its campaign of retaliation and intimidation, questioning dozens of employees in private meetings and falsely telling them that the conversations were attorney-client privileged and could not be disclosed to anyone. “, the complaint says, and the meetings are described as “unlawful forced interrogation”.
Laurie Burgess, another lawyer representing the former employees, called the events “shocking” in a statement.
“It is shocking that SpaceX believes that its mission to get people to Mars justifies ignoring workers’ basic civil rights,” Burgess said. “I am proud to represent the brave employees who are stepping up to challenge SpaceX’s behavior while collectively advocating for the protection of essential jobs.”
When an NLRB lawsuit is filed, the board begins its own investigation into the claims, including “interrogating witnesses and requesting documents,” Anne Shaver, a San Francisco-based employment attorney representing eight former SpaceX employees, told CNN. The process usually takes seven to 14 weeks, according to the website. If the charges are found to be valid, the NLRB will then appoint an attorney to file its complaint, Shaver added, and if there is no settlement, the matter will go to a hearing before an administrative law judge.
This is not the first time Musk has been accused of violating labor laws meant to protect workers from harassment, discrimination and unsafe working conditions. The NLRB has already taken action against Musk’s electric car company, Tesla, for trying to ban workers from wearing union badges. A labor relations board ordered Musk to delete an old tweet that was openly anti-union, and last year a judge ruled that Musk illegally fired workers who tried to join a union.
Tesla, which does not have a communications team, did not respond to reporters’ inquiries about these developments.