The New York Times says that SpaceX has fired employees who helped write and send out an open letter criticizing Elon Musk. In the letter, which was made public for the first time yesterday, Musk’s actions on social media were called “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment,” and SpaceX was asked to condemn them.
Three unnamed employees and an email from SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell that the NYT saw said that SpaceX fired some of the letter’s organizers, but it’s not clear how many people were fired.
She wrote that “SpaceX has fired a number of employees who worked on the letter.” “The letter, solicitations, and general process made employees feel uncomfortable, scared, bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign something that didn’t reflect their views. We have too much important work to do for this kind of activism, and we don’t need it.”
In their open letter, the employees mentioned that Musk had recently been accused of sexual misconduct, which reportedly led to a $250,000 settlement. Musk said that the claims were “completely false” and made a crude joke on Twitter about some of the details. SpaceX stood up for Musk, and Shotwell said she “personally” thought the accusations were wrong.
The letter also talked about how Musk’s use of Twitter can be a distraction. In February, the SEC started looking into Musk for possible insider trading. Recently, a court ruled that Musk’s tweets must continue to be approved by Tesla lawyers. (Musk fought that decision earlier this week.) Before the letter, Musk is said to have told SpaceX workers that they must be at the office at least 40 hours a week or they risk getting fired.
Shotwell wrote in her email that “It’s not okay to send repeated unsolicited emails to thousands of people in the company and ask them to sign letters and fill out unsponsored surveys during the work day. Please keep your mind on the SpaceX mission and do your best work when you have time. We will get to Mars this way.”
OSHA’s whistleblower rules protect employees from retaliation, but they mostly cover things like safety, fraud, the environment, and health insurance. Still, the firings are likely to bring Musk into another round of trouble.
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