A federal agency says illegally fired SpaceX workers are critical of Musk

Federal labor officials accused rocket company SpaceX on Wednesday of illegally firing eight employees over a letter critical of the company's founder and CEO Elon Musk.

According to the complaint, published by a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board, the company fired the employees in 2022 because it urged SpaceX to distance itself from Mr. Musk's social media comments, including one in which he mocked sexual harassment allegations. .

The letter released by the employees also calls on SpaceX, which has more than 13,000 employees, to clarify its harassment policies and enforce them consistently.

The labor board's complaint alleges that the company's president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, illegally restricted the distribution of the letter to employees, and it found similar violations by other executives and managers.

The case is scheduled to go before an administrative judge in early March unless SpaceX agrees to a settlement beforehand.

“At SpaceX, the rockets may be reusable, but the people who build them are seen as expendable,” said Paige Holland-Thielen, one of the employees who was fired. “I hope these allegations hold SpaceX and its leadership accountable for their long history of mistreatment of workers and suppression of discourse.”

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Musk has sometimes taken a hard line with employees at his companies, such as when he fired half of Twitter's employees, now known as X, shortly after buying the company in 2022. He later fired about 20 internal critics. Twitter, which lost about 80 percent of the 7,500 employees who worked there when the billionaire took over.

Tesla, where Mr. Musk is chief executive, has spent years in court over a case in which a labor council accused him of firing an employee for engaging in union activity. The board ruled in 2021 that the firings were illegal and ordered Tesla to reinstate the employee with back pay, a decision that was upheld by a federal court. company It's attractive Case later.

Department of Justice SpaceX sued In August, he was accused of hiring discrimination against asylum seekers and refugees, but a judge issued a decree prevents the progress of this case.

Posted by a former SpaceX employee in December 2021 Like this details incidents of harassment and re-harassment by colleagues, which she says went largely unaddressed after she reported them.

The essay sparked outrage within the company, which said it would begin an audit of its harassment policy.

next spring Business Insider reports That SpaceX paid $250,000 in 2018 to settle a lawsuit in which an employee accused Mr. Musk of exposing himself and making sexual advances. Mr. Musk Rejected He joked about the accusation and about it on Twitter.

Not long after, a group of employees began brainstorming ideas to make the company less tolerant of harassment and drafting a letter. Ms. Shotwell was aware of the effort and appeared to support it, according to comments she left on an internal communications platform seen by The New York Times.

In mid-June 2022, several employees circulated a letter to colleagues. The letter called Musk's public comments “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us” and called on the company to “ensure clear consequences for all unacceptable behavior, whether by the CEO or an employee starting day one.”

Although some managers responded sympathetically, within hours Ms Shotwell reprimanded the two employees involved in writing and distributing the letter, Tom Molin and Ms Holland-Thylen. “Please stop flooding employee communication channels immediately,” Ms. Shotwell said in an email, adding, “My email is I will consider your neglect of the mail as insubordination.'

The next day, the company fired Mr. Molin, Ms. Holland-Thielen and three other employees involved in organizing the letter. He fired four others linked to the letter in July and August 2022. (The labor board considered only eight dismissals because the ninth employee did not file a formal complaint.)

The labor board's complaint alleges that the firings were retaliatory and that Ms. Shotwell and other SpaceX officials interfered with employees' rights to engage in concerted activities that are legally protected.

He also said the company's vice president broke the law by criticizing the letter at a staff meeting days after it was released and “inviting employees to walk off the job if they disagreed with CEO Elon Musk's behavior.” The Times previously reported that a company vice president told employees that the letter was an act of extremism and that Mr. Musk could do whatever he wanted at the company.

The complaint also alleges that a senior human resources official illegally created the appearance of surveillance when he showed workers involved in the screen capture of a letter they posted on the messaging app.

Ryan Mack Contributed to the report.