Federal Agency Accuses SpaceX of Illegally Firing Employees for Criticizing Elon Musk

“Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX—every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company.”

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX during an 'in-conversation' event with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in central London.

Press Association/AP Images

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SpaceX, the space flight company owned by Elon Musk, illegally fired eight employees after they criticized Musk’s social media behavior, a new complaint from the National Labor Relations Board alleges.

The complaint stems from a June 2022 open letter that was shared on the company’s internal chat system in which the fired employees called on SpaceX to “swiftly and explicitly separate itself” from its owner because of Musk’s increasingly erratic and inflammatory social media posts. The letter also claimed that SpaceX had failed to uphold its zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy, as well as its “No Asshole” policy. Now, after a yearlong investigation, the NLRB has found evidence of at least 37 labor violations. 

“Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us,” the letter stated, according to a report by The Verge. “As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX—every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company.”

Nine employees were terminated shortly after the letter’s release. (The NLRB’s complaint involves eight of them.) According to reports from the Associated Pressfive employees were fired one day after the letter was sent, while the remaining four were terminated weeks later. 

 The new NLRB complaint adds to the growing labor complaints surrounding Musks’s companies. In February 2022, a California state agency filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against Tesla, with one Black employee claiming to hear racial slurs at least 50 to 100 times a day. As my former colleague Edwin Rios wrote: 

They heard racial slurs from their fellow workers and supervisors. They saw racist graffiti on the walls. They spoke up but their voices were unheard. The factory in Fremont, California, where they worked, was nicknamed “the plantation.” This was the life of a Black worker at Tesla’s main factory in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to a new civil rights lawsuit filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing.    

Then in September 2023, X failed to pay more than 6,000 employees severance, resulting in more than 2,000 arbitration cases against the social media platform. SpaceX reportedly has until Jan. 17 to file a formal answer. The case will proceed to trial in March 2024.

Correction, March 14: An earlier version of this article misstated the party that filed the 2022 lawsuit. It was a California state agency.

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