Former SpaceX Employees File Employment Law Complaint | CNN Business


Eight former SpaceX employees have filed labor law complaints, alleging that Elon Musk’s space company illegally fired workers after they wrote a letter to company management asking them to publicly condemn Musk’s “harmful” behavior on social media.

The former workers claim that SpaceX terminated their employment for their participation in “coordinated protected activities”. Those protected activities included compiling an open letter in June that SpaceX’s “current systems and culture do not live up to their stated values.” According to a copy of the letter attached to one of the complaints, the former employees claim Musk’s public comments were “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment to us.”

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment, and has not responded 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 multibillion-dollar contracts with the US military and NASA, including deals to deliver astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, as well as a contract to fly astronauts to the surface of the moon as part of the space agency’s core Artemis program.

The existence of the letter, which was signed by at least 400 other employees, was reported by The Verge, and The New York Times broke the news Thursday that eight of the nine employees alleged they were fired for participating in drafting or sharing the official NLRB complaint letter. . SpaceX has approximately 10,000 employees, according to the NLRB complaint.

An attorney representing Paige Holland-Thielen, one of SpaceX’s terminated workers who served as chief of avionics operations and automation engineer, sent CNN a copy of her complaint, and said the allegations made in the other seven complaints are “pretty much the same.”

Of the eight employees who alleged wrongdoing, Holland Thelin and Tom Mullen, a former chief engineer at SpaceX, agreed to go on record.

In a statement, Hollande Tellen said she has “experienced deep cultural problems firsthand and has spent countless hours comforting my peers and colleagues as they go through the same things and worse.”

“We crafted the message to connect with executives on their terms and show how their inaction created tangible barriers to long-term mission success,” she said. “We never imagined that SpaceX would fire us for trying to help the company succeed.”

Management has used the “ends justify the means” philosophy to turn a blind eye to the ongoing abuse, harassment and abuse reported by my colleagues, many of which were directly encouraged and inspired by the CEO’s words and actions, Mullen said.

“I hope this claim proves that no one is above the law, and empowers SpaceXers to continue speaking out and fighting for a better and fairer workplace,” Mullen said in a statement.

Their letter asked SpaceX management to make it public that Musk’s statements — particularly on Twitter — did not reflect the views or values ​​of the company or its employees and asserted that SpaceX’s alleged “no asshole” policy was applied unevenly.

SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell described the “no asshole” policy in last year’s commencement speech, saying, “These types of people — assholes — interrupt others; shut down or engage in conversation; and create a hostile environment where no one wants to contribute. … Embrace Your fellow workers’ ideas, especially when they differ greatly from your own.”

In the weeks leading up to the letter, Musk posted tweets mock them New reports have surfaced that he revealed himself to a flight attendant on a private jet (as he described the allegations)incorrect“); suggested creating a university with the acronym “TITS”; made sexual jokes on the billionaire’s Amazon account Jeff Bezos and a US Senator; It seems to be using birth control pills pronouns And the gay pride flags during Pride Month. published a me me That rejected the idea of ​​a “human measure” and else Compare the Canadian prime minister to Hitler. It was also around the time Musk was embroiled in the will-won’t-phase of his decision to buy Twitter.

The letter was circulated among employees before it was sent to management, and SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwen Shotwell responded in an email to employees, claiming that a survey revealed that the letter and signature requests had “annoyed many.”

“That is, the letter, requests, and general process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated, intimidated, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign something that did not reflect their views,” Shotwell’s June 16 email read.

According to the NLRB’s complaint, on the same day the letter was sent, Holland-Thelin and four others were fired.

“After this initial wave of retaliatory wrongful terminations, over the next two months SpaceX continued its campaign of retaliation and intimidation by questioning dozens of employees in private meetings and falsely telling them that the conversations were attorney-client and could not be disclosed to anyone in the complaint,” the meetings noted. as “illegal coercive interrogations”.

Laurie Burgess, another attorney representing the former employees, called the events “shocking” in a statement.

“It’s appalling that SpaceX seems to think its mission of flying humans to Mars justifies turning a blind eye to basic civil rights for workers,” said Burgess. “I am proud to represent the brave employees who have come forward to challenge SpaceX’s behavior by collectively advocating for basic workplace protection.”

When an NLRB claim is filed, the board begins its own investigation into the allegations that include “interviewing witnesses and requesting documents,” Ann Schafer, an employment attorney in San Francisco representing eight former SpaceX workers, told CNN. The process usually takes seven to 14 weeks, according to its website. If the charges prove to have merit, Shafer added, the NLRB will then file its own complaint and appoint an attorney, and the matter will go to hearing before an administrative law judge unless there is a settlement.

This isn’t the first time Musk has raised allegations of violating 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 stop workers from wearing clothing with a labor union badge. The Labor Relations Council also ordered Musk to delete an old tweet that was overtly anti-union, and a judge last year ruled that Musk illegally fired employees who tried to unionize.

Tesla, which does not have a communications team, did not respond to reporters’ inquiries about those developments.

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