SpaceX accused of firing employees critical of free speech fan Elon Musk

Rule 1: You do not criticize the boss. Rule 2: You do NOT criticize the boss

The US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued a complaint against SpaceX, alleging it dismissed workers for being critical of the company's boss, Elon Musk, among 37 other unfair labor practices.

According to the complaint [PDF], the matter stems from the company's response to an open letter sent to SpaceX's executive board 18 months ago.

The June 2022 letter denounced Musk, complained that the billionaire's antics were both a distraction and embarrassment for SpaceX, and called for a separation of the rocket company from Musk's personal brand.

Those involved claim they were swiftly removed from the company, and allege this is because of their involvement. On June 15, 2022, President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell was alleged to have sent an email that "unlawfully restricted employees from distributing the Open Letter."

The following day, the complaint claims, Shotwell sent another email informing staff that "employees had been discharged for their involvement in the Open Letter."

A SpaceX Vice President is then alleged to have "made coercive statements concerning employees' protected concerted activities by disparaging the Open Letter and those employees who had participated in drafting it and by inviting employees to quit if they disagreed with the behavior of Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk."

In a nutshell, the complaint is claiming that rather than deal with the issues raised in the letter, SpaceX opted to launch "a campaign of intimidation and coercion," according to attorneys for the plaintiffs. The ex-staffers are being represented by Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein.

It's not an ideal start to the year for SpaceX, which has come off a record-breaking 2023 for rocket launches.

One of the ex-employees, Tom Moline, said of the NLRB action: "I had no doubt that the NLRB would recognize SpaceX's actions for what they were: feeble attempts to punish, intimidate, and silence me and hundreds of other workers who simply sought to improve workplace conditions and address the toxic culture set by Elon Musk, enforced by Gwynne Shotwell, and enabled by all levels of SpaceX leadership. We will not be silenced, and I am confident that SpaceX will be held accountable for their illegal actions."

The Register asked SpaceX to comment and will update should the company respond.

Musk's companies are no strangers to struggling with labor law. In 2023, a watchdog concluded that Tesla prohibited workplace discussion of wages and complaints. The NLRB also issued a ruling in 2021 that Musk's car biz had broken the rules by suppressing union organizers.

The world's richest man has yet to issue an amusing meme on the issue via his favorite social media mouthpiece. He did, however, offer congratulations to the SpaceX team following a tweet by Falcon Launch Vehicles veep Jon Edwards noting that the company was attempting to accelerate its supply chain to consistently ship a Falcon 9 second stage every two-and-a-half days. ®

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