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SpaceX reportedly fires staffers behind open letter criticising Elon Musk

Asked for equitable treatment and a boss that doesn't embarrass them

SpaceX has reportedly reacted to an open letter requesting accountability for Elon Musk by firing those involved.

The alleged dismissals come just two days after an open letter to SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell began circulating in a SpaceX Teams channel. The missive from employees said Musk's recent actions have been a source of distraction and embarrassment for SpaceX staff.

The letter asked for the company to "swiftly and explicitly separate itself" from Musk's personal brand, hold all leadership accountable for their actions, and asked that SpaceX clearly define what behaviors it considers unacceptable. The authors also said the company failed to apply its stated diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, "resulting in a workplace culture that remains firmly rooted in the status quo."

"We care deeply about SpaceX's mission to make humanity multiplanetary. But more importantly, we care about each other," the letter writers said.

However, a response – reportedly written by Shotwell – makes SpaceX's position on the employee asks explicitly clear: rock the rocket, and you're out.

In an email from Shotwell to SpaceX employees obtained by the New York Times, which hasn't been reprinted in its entirety, the SpaceX president said a number of employees had been terminated, though it's unclear how many.

The Shotwell letter reportedly said that SpaceX work is too critical, and there is too much of it, with activism of this kind being something SpaceX has "no need for." 

"The letter, solicitations and general process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views," Shotwell wrote to employees. She added that it was unacceptable to repeatedly solicit signatures during the work day, saying that the individuals had sent "repeated unsolicited emails" to thousands of SpaceX staff.

SpaceX employs 12,000 people.

Elon Musk has been involved in plenty of scandalous headlines over the past few years, much of it due to his Twitter behavior. Of particular interest in this case is Musk's settlement with a flight attendant who accused him of exposing himself on a private jet and soliciting "more" during a massage in exchange for a horse.

Shotwell defended Musk to SpaceX when the settlement news came to light, saying in an email to employees that she didn't believe the accusations.

That's not the only time Shotwell has had to bat for Musk – she had to clarify her boss's statements on Juneteenth in 2020, when Musk said the holiday, which marks the end of slavery in the US, would be a company holiday, but those wanting to celebrate would need to use PTO to do so.

Shotwell clarified at the time that Juneteenth would be an official company holiday beginning in 2021. She also told SpaceX staff in 2020:

"Micro-aggressions all the way to explicit race-based name calling and other intolerable aggressive behaviors occur here and this is completely not OK. SpaceX does not tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind (and in these cases we will strictly uphold our no A-hole policy)." ®

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