SpaceX, the pioneering space exploration company led by billionaire Elon Musk, is under scrutiny as it faces accusations of unlawfully firing eight employees who were vocal about workplace issues. The allegations stem from an open letter sent by the workers in 2022, labeling Musk a “distraction and embarrassment,” according to Reuters.
The complaint lodged by a regional official at the NLRB accuses SpaceX of not only terminating employees critical of Elon Musk but also violating their rights to collectively address workplace concerns. The open letter, which criticized Musk’s leadership as a distraction, triggered an internal investigation that allegedly led to interrogations before the workers’ dismissals.
Deborah Lawrence, one of the former employees, reportedly described SpaceX’s culture as “toxic,” where harassment is tolerated. Lawyers representing Lawrence assert that the open letter addressing leadership issues was driven by genuine concern for the company’s mission and workforce.
The NLRB’s involvement signifies a legal battle for SpaceX. If a settlement is not reached, an administrative judge will preside over the case, with the decision subject to appeal. A hearing is scheduled for March 5, and if the NLRB determines that the firings violated labor laws, remedies could include reinstatement and back pay for the terminated employees.
Elon Musk’s companies, including SpaceX and Tesla, have faced accusations of employee rights violations in the past. In October, the NLRB accused another Musk-led company, X (formerly known as Twitter), of illegal firing over tweets challenging return-to-office policies. Tesla has encountered NLRB complaints, including allegations of race discrimination, though the company states it does not tolerate discrimination.
In a separate incident, the US Department of Justice sued SpaceX in August, alleging discrimination against refugees and asylum seekers in hiring practices. Musk’s response on X emphasized compliance with US law, stating that a green card is required for hiring at SpaceX due to rockets being considered advanced weapons technology.
The unfolding legal challenges underscore the complex landscape Musk’s ventures navigate in relation to labor practices and employee rights.