Eight former SpaceX employees have filed labor law complaints, alleging Elon Musk’s space company unlawfully fired workers after he wrote a letter to company management asking them to publicly condemn the behavior. detrimental” from Musk on social media.
The former workers allege that SpaceX terminated their employment for engaging in “concerted protected activities.” Those protected activities included writing an open letter in June alleging that “SpaceX’s current systems and culture do not live up to its stated values.” According to a copy of the letter attached to one of the complaints, former employees say Musk’s public comments were a “frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us.”
SpaceX has not responded to a request for comment, nor to routine requests from reporters in years.
The company, founded by Musk in 2002, is one of the most influential and powerful commercial space companies in the world. It holds billions of dollars in contracts with the US military and NASA, including agreements to deliver astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station as well as a contract to ferry astronauts to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program, cornerstone of the space agency.
The existence of the letter, which was signed by at least 400 other employees, was first reported by The Verge, and The New York Times reported on Thursday that eight of the nine employees who allege were fired for their involvement in writing or sharing the letter were filing official NLRB complaints. SpaceX has nearly 10,000 employees in total, according to an NLRB complaint.
An attorney representing Paige Holland-Thielen, one of the terminated SpaceX workers who served as chief avionics and automation operations engineer, sent CNN a copy of her complaint and said the claims of the seven other complaints were “substantially the same”.
Of the eight employees alleging wrongdoing, only Holland-Thielen and Tom Moline, a former senior SpaceX engineer, agreed to come forward.
In a statement, Holland-Thielen said she “experienced the deep cultural issues firsthand and spent countless hours comforting my peers and colleagues who were going through the same things and worse.
“We wrote the letter to communicate to senior staff about their conditions and show how their inaction has created tangible obstacles to the long-term success of the mission,” she said. “We never imagined that SpaceX would fire us for trying to help the company succeed.”
Moline said management used an ‘ends justify the means’ philosophy to turn a blind eye to the ongoing mistreatment, harassment and abuse reported by my colleagues, much of which was directly encouraged and inspired by the lyrics. and the actions of the CEO.
“I hope this…affirmation demonstrates that no one is above the law and allows SpaceXers to continue to speak out and fight for a better and fairer workplace,” Moline said in a statement. communicated.
Their letter asked SpaceX management to publicly clarify that Musk’s statements — particularly on Twitter — did not reflect the views or values of the company or its employees and asserted that the so-called “No Asshole” policy of SpaceX was applied unevenly.
SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell described the “No Asshole” policy in a commencement speech last year, saying, “These kind of people – jerks – interrupt other people; they cut off or co-opt the conversation; and they create a hostile environment where no one wants to contribute. … Adopt your colleagues’ ideas, especially when they differ greatly from your own.
In the weeks leading up to the letter, Musk posted tweets that mocked recently emerged reports that he exposed himself to a flight attendant on a private jet (he also called the allegations “fake”); suggested creating a university with the acronym “TITS”; made sex jokes at the expense of the Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and one american senator; seemed to pillory the use of pronouns and gay pride flags during Pride Month; posted a same who rejected the idea that “mansplaining” exists and another one which compared the Canadian Prime Minister to Hitler. This was also around the time Musk was involved in the will phase of his decision to buy Twitter.
The letter was circulated among employees before being sent to management, and SpaceX chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell responded in an email to staff, alleging an investigation found the letter and the requests for signatures had “upset many”.
“That is, the letter, the solicitations and the general process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and intimidated and/or angry because the letter caused them to sign something that did not reflect not their point of view,” reads the email from Shotwell, sent on June 16.
On the same day the letter was sent, Holland-Thielen and four other people were fired, according to the NLRB complaint.
“After that first wave of retaliatory wrongful dismissals, over the next two months SpaceX continued its campaign of retaliation and intimidation by interviewing dozens of employees in private meetings and falsely telling them the conversations were confidential between lawyer and client and could not be disclosed to anyone. reads the complaint, calling the meetings “unlawful coercive interrogations.”
Laurie Burgess, another attorney representing former employees, called the events “shocking” in a statement.
“It’s shocking that SpaceX seems to believe its mission to get humans to Mars justifies turning a blind eye to the basic civil rights of workers,” Burgess said. “I’m proud to represent the brave employees who have stepped up to challenge the conduct of SpaceX by collectively advocating for basic workplace protections.”
When a claim to the NLRB is filed, the board initiates its own claims investigations, which include “examining witnesses and requesting documents,” Anne Shaver, a San Francisco-based labor attorney, told CNN. the eight former SpaceX workers. The process typically takes seven to 14 weeks, according to its website. If the charges are found to have merit, the NLRB will then file its own complaint, appoint an attorney, Shaver added, and the case will be heard before an administrative law judge unless there is a settlement.
This isn’t the first time Musk has sparked allegations of violations of labor laws, which are designed to protect workers from harassment, discrimination and unsafe working conditions. The NLRB has already taken action against Tesla, Musk’s electric car company, for trying to ban workers from wearing clothes with union badges. The Labor Relations Board also ordered Musk to delete an old tweet that was blatantly anti-union, and a judge ruled last year that Musk unlawfully fired employees who attempted to unionize.
Tesla, which does not have a communications team, did not respond to questions from reporters about these developments.
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