The “National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)” has issued a complaint against SpaceX, alleging the illegal termination of eight employees who penned a critical letter about the company’s founder and CEO, Elon Musk. The complaint, unveiled on Wednesday, accuses SpaceX of violating the workers’ rights by dismissing them for referring to Musk as a “distraction and embarrassment.”
According to the NLRB’s regional office, the complaint contends that SpaceX not only terminated the employees but also subjected them to interrogation about the letter and pressured them against distributing it. The letter, circulated in 2022 and examined by The Verge, called on SpaceX to condemn Musk’s often controversial social media activity, including sexually suggestive posts, and urged the consistent enforcement of harassment policies.
The labor agency also accuses SpaceX, with its workforce exceeding 13,000 employees, of disparaging the involved workers and threatening similar action against others engaging in comparable activities. The case is set to go before an administrative judge in early March unless SpaceX opts for a settlement.
One of the terminated employees, Paige Holland-Thielen, expressed hope that the charges would hold SpaceX accountable for a history of mistreating workers and stifling discourse. SpaceX has not yet responded to requests for comment.
This development follows a lawsuit by the Justice Department against SpaceX in August, accusing the company, led by Musk, of discriminating against refugees and individuals granted asylum. Musk, known for his firm stance against dissent within his companies, has faced previous lawsuits alleging violations of federal labor laws.
The NLRB’s decision to pursue the case indicates that their investigation found merit in the former employees’ allegations. The law forbids employers from taking retaliatory actions against employees who participate in protected activities or cooperate to enhance working conditions. Penalties for violations may include reinstatement, back wages, and other penalties.
The critical letter, sent to SpaceX executives and colleagues in June 2022, condemned Musk’s posts on his X platform, particularly those mocking sexual harassment accusations against him. The NLRB alleges that the firings in August were in retaliation for the employees’ expression of concern.
The federal agency also claims that SpaceX conducted unlawful interrogations with human resources, asking employees to keep them secret, and created an atmosphere of surveillance by reviewing and sharing screenshots of employees’ communications on a messaging app.
Anne Shaver, an attorney representing the terminated employees, emphasized the NLRB’s stance, stating, “SpaceX violated our clients’ workplace rights, and this flagrant violation of the law cannot be allowed to go unchecked. We look forward to trial.”