SpaceX employees say they were fired for complaining about Elon Musk’s tweets

SpaceX employees say they were fired for complaining about Elon Musk’s tweets

SpaceX executives illegally fired nine workers who objected to CEO Elon Musk’s tweets, according to a recent complaint filed with the national labor agency.

This summer, after a group of workers complained that Musk’s frequent tweeting of insults, sexual puns and political language had cast the space exploration company in a bad light, executives called for the workers to be fired, charging the workers. According to the workers, five of them were fired immediately and four others were fired in the following two months.

“It was really shocking to see that kind of reaction from an organization that prides itself on having employees speak up about any issue, be it technical or cultural, and giving them the power to drive this change,” said Tom Moline, one of laid-off workers, CBS News said on Tuesday.

Moline and Paige Holland-Thielen, another worker fired by SpaceX, filed formal complaints with the National Labor Relations Board to get their jobs back. Lawyers filed complaints on behalf of six other former SpaceX employees, who remain anonymous.

SpaceX “missed an incredible opportunity to improve company culture and simply fired them instead. And that’s just tragic. I mean, that’s the kind of workers you want,” Anne Shaver, a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein who represents the workers behind the complaint, recently told CBS MoneyWatch.

Musk’s management of SpaceX, Tesla and Twitter, which he now owns, came under scrutiny after he took control of the social media company. On Twitter, employees also said they lost their jobs after publicly and privately disagreeing with Musk’s strategies.

harassment allegations

Allegations surfaced in May that Musk exposed himself to a SpaceX flight attendant and that the company paid her $250,000 in compensation for her silence. Musk denied the report, urging the accuser to describe “absolutely everything” about his body “that is not known to the public.” He is pleased recommended Naming the scandal “Elongate” and continued tell Another Twitter user: “Well if you touch my sausage you can have a horse.”

Other comments tweeted by the CEO include: “Jack in the Box should do double duty as a seed clinic”; an image of dinosaurs pairing; and various posts opposing the use of pronouns in written communications to indicate a person’s gender.

This freewheeling style allows for corporate misconduct to go unchallenged, said Moline, who described the SpaceX head as “very spontaneous and everyone focused on this mission…to get to Mars as soon as possible.”

“This allows him and is an example of management within the company to basically ignore anything that could possibly get in the way of that mission – whether it’s federal labor laws [or] sexual harassment of women in the workforce,” Moline told CBS News.

Against this backdrop of allegations of harassment by a SpaceX flight attendant and a former company engineer, some employees spoke out. In an open letter written in June, they called on SpaceX to clarify its code of conduct for workers and to apply these rules consistently across the company. Separately, they called on SpaceX to “condemn” Musk’s “damaging Twitter conduct.”

Elon Musk tells Twitter workers to ‘commit to working long hours’ or leave at 9:03am

“Elon’s public behavior is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment to us,” the workers wrote in the letter, a copy of which was filed with the NLRB with paperwork on Wednesday.

“As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX – every tweet Elon sends is a de facto public statement from the company. It’s critical to make it clear to our teams and our potential talent pool that his messaging doesn’t reflect our work, our mission, or our values. SpaceX’s current systems and culture do not live up to its stated values,” they wrote.

Letter to Musk as a “distraction”

On June 16, the day after the letter circulated, SpaceX fired Tom Moline, a chief engineer who along with four other employees led the effort to draft the letter, according to the NLRB complaint. The company fired four other workers involved in distributing the letter in July and August.

In an email the same day Moline and four others were fired, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell called the letter a “distraction” and said the company had “no need for this kind of over-the-top activism.”

“The letter, the prompts and the overall process left staff feeling uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied and/or upset because the letter pressured them into signing something that did not reflect their views,” Shotwell said in the email filed with the NLRB along with the employees’ complaint.

“We conducted an investigation and terminated a number of employees involved,” she said.

Shotwell made a phone call to human resources, where Moline and four others were fired, the engineer told CBS News.

Under federal law, it is illegal to retaliate against workers who attempt to improve their conditions, including by collectively raising workplace concerns. If the labor board agrees the workers were illegally fired, they could order SpaceX to reinstate them and offer back pay.

A lawyer for the workers also did not rule out a private lawsuit against the company, alleging that SpaceX violated several laws in the layoff, including federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

Christopher Cardaci, SpaceX’s chief legal officer, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Musk warns Twitter workers of tough times and imposes drastic changes at 04:30

Does Musk have rules?

Jeffery Pfeffer, a professor specializing in organizational behavior at Stanford University Business School, told the Associated Press that the allegations are hardly surprising given Musk’s leadership style on Twitter. Musk recently eliminated half of the social media company’s employees and gave the rest an ultimatum, telling workers they would have to “be extremely persistent” and work long hours to rebuild the platform.

Musk’s success at Tesla and SpaceX created what Pfeffer called hubris under the false notion that it’s “all about individual genius.”

“Powerful people are allowed to break the rules. They don’t think they are bound by the same conventions as other people,” said Pfeffer. He added that it shows the arrogance of Musk, one of the richest men in the world: “Why would he think he was just a mortal?”

Freedom of speech, but not for everyone

While Musk advocates free speech and openness, workers said their firing in response to concerns raised came as a shock.

“Part of what was supposed to be great about SpaceX was that any person at any level could escalate issues to leadership and be taken seriously and treated with respect,” said Paige Holland-Thielen, another of the laid-off workers, in an explanation. “We never thought SpaceX would fire us for trying to make the company a success.”

Workers were dismayed by what they saw as a reversal from Shotwell, who was initially supportive, Moline told The New York Times, which first reported on the wage bill.

“I thought she did a good job of protecting and representing us from some of the worst impulses that Elon and others might have had,” he told the outlet. “Finally realizing that she wasn’t that savior — that blew the confidence for me.”

The Associated Press contributed to the coverage.

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