The NLRB alleges that SpaceX employees who criticized CEO Elon Musk for causing “distraction and embarrassment” were illegally fired in retaliation.

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Elon Musk. Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

SpaceX was accused by the US Labor Board of illegally firing eight employees over an internal letter sharply critical of Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk.

A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against SpaceX on Wednesday, alleging the company illegally interrogated, surveilled and retaliated against workers, agency spokeswoman Kayla Blado said in an email. of. The fired employees also include the author of a 2022 open letter protesting Musk’s “inappropriate, offensive, sexually charged comments on Twitter,” his lawyers wrote when they brought the case in 2022.

The NLRB complaint alleges that SpaceX management told employees it had fired the employees because of their open letter, banned others from distributing it, and threatened termination if they joined the collective action. Granted, said Blado.

“At SpaceX, rockets may be reusable but the people who build them are considered expendable,” Paige Holland-Thelen, one of the employees, said in an emailed statement. “I am hopeful that these charges will hold SpaceX and its leadership accountable for their long history of mistreating workers and suppressing negotiations.”

The company, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The NLRB said a trial is scheduled to begin March 5.

In June 2022, a group of employees circulated an open letter through internal SpaceX communications channels criticizing Musk’s online behavior and calling on the company to condemn his public comments and distance itself from him.

“Elon’s behavior in the public sphere has often caused distraction and embarrassment to us, especially in recent weeks,” the letter said.

Shortly after the letter was circulated within SpaceX, several employees involved in drafting the letter were fired.

Complaints issued by NLRB prosecutors are considered by agency judges, whose decisions can be appealed to NLRB members in Washington and then to federal court. The agency has the authority to order companies to reinstate fired employees and provide unpaid wages, but generally cannot hold executives personally liable for alleged wrongdoing or issue any punitive damages. May go.

Federal law protects the right of employees to communicate and protest collectively about their working conditions, with or without a union.

While Musk has declared himself a “free speech absolutist”, his companies have been repeatedly accused by the US government of trying to silence workers. Last year, SpaceX settled a claim that it illegally tried to suppress an employee’s speech. Separately, Musk’s social media company NLRB members also ruled that Musk’s electric car maker Tesla Inc. illegally fired a worker and that Musk threatened workers on social media; Tesla is appealing in federal court.

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