Fired SpaceX employees accuse company of violating labor law

Nov 17, 2022, 2:26 PM | Updated: 3:37 pm
FILE - The SpaceX logo is displayed on a building, Tuesday, May 26, 2020, at the Kennedy Space Cent...

FILE - The SpaceX logo is displayed on a building, Tuesday, May 26, 2020, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Several SpaceX employees who were fired after circulating an open letter calling out CEO Elon Musk's behavior have filed a complaint accusing the company of violating labor laws. The complaint, made Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, to the National Labor Relations Board, says five employees who participated in organizing the June letter were fired a day after the letter was sent to company executives. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Several SpaceX employees who were fired after circulating an open letter calling out CEO Elon Musk’s behavior have filed a complaint accusing the company of violating labor laws.

The complaint, made Wednesday to the National Labor Relations Board, details the aftermath of what allegedly happened inside SpaceX after employees circulated the letter in June, which, among other things, called on executives to condemn Musk’s public behavior on Twitter — including making light of allegations he sexually harassed a flight attendant — and hold everyone accountable for unacceptable conduct.

The letter was sent weeks after a media report surfaced that Musk paid $250,000 to the flight attendant to quash a potential sexual harassment lawsuit against him. The billionaire has denied the allegations.

Employees in their letter urged SpaceX to uniformly enforce its policy against unacceptable behavior and commit to a transparent process for responses to claims of misconduct. A day later, Paige Holland-Thielen and four other employees who participated in organizing the letter were fired, according to the filing, which was made by Holland-Thielen to a regional NLRB office in California. Four additional employees were fired weeks later for their involvement in the letter.

A company spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Musk, who is the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX and is currently running Twitter, prefers to do things his own way even if that means running afoul of rules and regulations. He’s currently in a defiant fight with Civil Rights department, a California regulator that is suing Tesla for rampant racial discrimination.

Some view Musk’s management style as autocratic and demanding, as evidenced by a recent email he sent to Twitter staff giving them until Thursday evening to decide whether they want to remain a part of the business. Musk wrote that employees “will need to be extremely hardcore” to build “a breakthrough Twitter 2.0´´ and that long hours at high intensity will be needed for success.

A number of engineers also said on Twitter they were fired last week after saying something critical of Musk, either publicly on Twitter or on an internal messaging board for Twitter employees.

In a statement, Holland-Thielen said as a woman engineer at SpaceX, she experienced “deep cultural problems” and comforted colleagues who had experienced similar issues.

“It was clear that this culture was created from the top level,” she said.

Still, she said part of what she liked about the company was that any person could escalate issues to leadership and be taken seriously.

“We drafted the letter to communicate to the executive staff on their terms and show how their lack of action created tangible barriers to the long term success of the mission,” Holland-Thielen said. “We never imagined that SpaceX would fire us for trying to help the company succeed.”

The firings coincide with Musk’s $44 billion buyout of Twitter. Around the same time, the billionaire used a sexual term to make fun of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ belly and also posted a poop emoji during an online discussion with then-Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal.

After terminating the first set of employees, SpaceX allegedly interrogated dozens of others over the next two months in private meetings, telling them they couldn’t disclose those conversations to anyone else due to attorney-client privilege, according to the complaint. Four additional employees who helped draft or share the letter were fired in July and August, the filing said, adding up to nine terminations in total.

“Management used this ‘ends justifies the means’ philosophy to turn a blind eye to the ongoing mistreatment, harassment, and abuse reported by my colleagues, much of which was directly encouraged and inspired by the words and actions of the CEO,” said Tom Moline, who was also fired from SpaceX after organizing the letter.

Jeffery Pfeffer, a professor who specializes in organizational behavior at Stanford University’s business school, said that the allegations were hardly a surprise given Musk’s leadership style at Twitter. Musk’s success at companies like Tesla and SpaceX have created what he labeled as hubris under the false notion that it was “all about individual genius.”

“Powerful people get to break the rules. They don’t think they are bound by the same conventions as other people,” Pfeffer said, criticizing Musk’s behavior. He said it showed the arrogance of Musk, one of the world’s richest men: “Why would he think he is a mere mortal?”

___

Groves reported from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Rapper and actor Ludacris, right, smiles with a student who received new shoes at Miles Intermediat...
Associated Press

Ludacris, Mercedes-Benz grant holiday wishes with new shoes

ATLANTA, Ga (AP) — Just in time for the holidays, Ludacris and Mercedes-Benz have surprised schoolchildren in Atlanta with more than 500 new pairs of shoes. “It’s all about giving kids moments that they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives,” Ludacris said Wednesday at Miles Elementary School. “And I think today is […]
17 hours ago
FILE - Former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson speaks to reporters after a news conference in New York...
Associated Press

Slate of New Mexico regulatory candidates sparks concern

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Many decisions by New Mexico’s most powerful regulatory panel have had direct economic and environmental consequences for one corner of the state, and yet not one candidate nominated to fill the Public Regulation Commission is from northwestern New Mexico. Critics are concerned about the lack of representation as Gov. Michelle Lujan […]
17 hours ago
FILE - Florida state Rep. Joe Harding listens during a Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Su...
Associated Press

‘Don’t Say Gay’ Florida lawmaker indicted on fraud charges

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida lawmaker who sponsored the controversial law critics call “Don’t Say Gay” has been indicted on charges of defrauding a federal coronavirus loan program for small businesses, officials said Wednesday. Federal prosecutors said Rep. Joe Harding, 35, illegally obtained or tried to obtain more than $150,000 from the Small Business […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

Pentagon splits $9 billion cloud contract between 4 firms

WASHINGTON (AP) — Google, Oracle, Microsoft and Amazon will share in the Pentagon’s $9 billion contract to build its cloud computing network, a year after accusations of politicization over the previously announced contract and a protracted legal battle resulted in the military starting over in its award process. The Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability is envisioned […]
17 hours ago
FILE - The Apple logo is illuminated at a store in the city center in Munich, Germany, on Dec. 16, ...
Associated Press

Apple: Most iCloud data can now be end-to-end encrypted

BOSTON (AP) — As part of an ongoing privacy push, Apple said Wednesday it will now offer full end-to-encryption for nearly all the data its users store in its global cloud-based storage system. That will make it more difficult for hackers, spies and law enforcement agencies to access sensitive user information. The world’s most valuable […]
17 hours ago
FILE - A group of visitors return to Stephen C. Foster State Park after an overnight camping trip o...
Associated Press

Interior secretary: `Unacceptable’ to mine near famed swamp

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet is urging Georgia officials to deny permits for a proposed mine near the edge of the famed Okefenokee Swamp and its vast wildlife refuge, saying the plan poses “unacceptable risk” to the swamp’s fragile ecology. “I write to express serious concerns regarding proposed mining […]
17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
Fired SpaceX employees accuse company of violating labor law