SpaceX Illegally Fired Staff Critical Of Elon Musk, Says US Agency

New development has emerged regarding the SpaceX staff who denounced the behaviour of Elon Musk back in 2022.

The US labour agency, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), accused SpaceX of unlawfully firing eight employees for circulating a letter calling founder and CEO Elon Musk a “distraction and embarrassment,” Reuters reported.

It all stems from an open letter in June 2022 from the staff to SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell, which described how Musk’s actions in 2022 (including his controversial Twitter takeover, SEC bashing etc) and the allegations of sexual harassment against him (which he denied) were negatively affecting SpaceX’s reputation.

Image credit: Elon Musk

Open letter

The letter claimed that SpaceX staff “across the spectra of gender, ethnicity, seniority, and technical roles had collaborated on” writing the letter.

However, the exact number of signatories to the letter was not known at the time it came to light.

SpaceX staff had been asked to sign onto the letter by filling out a survey or scanning a QR code.

It was reported at the time that the letter generated more than a hundred comments in the Teams channel, with many employees agreeing to the spirit of the missive.

And the letter was pretty damning, alleging that SpaceX staff think that Elon Musk was a “distraction and embarrassment.”

“Elon’s behaviour in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks,” the 2022 letter stated. “As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX – every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company.”

“It is critical to make clear to our teams and to our potential talent pool that his messaging does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values,” the letter stated.

Toxic culture

Now Reuters reported that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued a complaint, claiming that SpaceX violated the workers’ rights under federal labour law to band together and advocate for better working conditions.

The complaint also accuses SpaceX of interrogating employees about the letter, disparaging the workers who were involved, and threatening to fire workers who engaged in similar activity.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters reported.

SpaceX has a “toxic culture” where harassment is tolerated, particularly against women, Deborah Lawrence, one of the employees who was fired, has alleged in a statement provided by her lawyers.

“We wrote the open letter to leadership not out of malice, but because we cared about the mission and the people around us,” Lawrence was quoted as saying.

Reuters noted that the NLRB’s general counsel acts like a prosecutor and brings cases to the five-member board appointed by the president.

If SpaceX does not settle, the case will be heard by an administrative judge, whose decision can be appealed to the board and then to a federal appeals court.

A hearing is slated for 5 March.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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