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SpaceX employees say they were fired for criticizing Elon Musk in open letter

Former employees of SpaceX have filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging they had been retaliated against for writing a letter that was critical of the company CEO, Elon Musk. The eight former employees, who were fired in June, helped organize employees to draft the open letter condemning Musk’s online behavior, according to the New York Times. The letter, in part, addressed a joke Musk tweeted about a report suggesting he paid a company flight attendant who accused him of sexual harassment a $250,000 settlement.Musk has denied the allegations. “Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks,” the letter, first circulated in June and obtained by the Verge, stated. After the letter was written, a group of 20 employees met with a top SpaceX executive and were allegedly told by Jon Edwards, the vice-president of Falcon Launch vehicles at SpaceX, that they were distracting the company and that the letter was an “extremist act”, the New York Times reported. Nine employees were fired for challenging Musk, they allege in the complaint. Employees argued in the letter that the company was not living up to its own “no asshole” policy and asked that SpaceX “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior”. The SpaceX complaint coincides with Musk’s public retaliation against employees openly correcting or criticizing him at another company he now leads. In addition to firing Twitter employees who have publicly criticized Musk in tweets, the New York Times reported Musk had also tasked subordinates with combing through internal communications to weed out naysayers.

Musk’s companies have previously faced challenges from the the National Labor Relations Board, which protects employees’ right to to seek better working conditions without fear of retaliation. In March 2021, the NLRB upheld a decision that found Tesla to have engaged in unfair labor practices for firing a worker for attempting to unionize and for a Musk tweet discouraging unionization. Additionally, in response to leaks, Tesla required employees to “renew their vows” and sign a new confidentiality agreement. But, the non-disclosure agreement prohibited employees from speaking with the media and was also found to be unlawful.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In addition to condemning Musk’s public behavior, SpaceX employees asked the company to reaffirm its commitment to the zero-tolerance policy around sexual harassment in the June letter. While the letter addresses Musk’s tweets making light of the allegations against him detailed in the Business Insider report, some SpaceX employees have also previously spoken out about a culture of sexism and rampant harassment. One former engineer, Ashley Kosak, wrote that her reports of harassment often went ignored at the company where she started as an intern. Other female interns echoed her complaints saying they faced unwanted advances by other interns and men in more senior positions. “To be clear: recent events are not isolated incidents,” employees wrote in the June open letter. “They are emblematic of a wider culture that underserves many of the people who enable SpaceX’s extraordinary accomplishments.”

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