SpaceX is under scrutiny as a US labour agency accuses the aerospace company of unlawfully firing eight employees who openly criticised its CEO, Elon Musk. The workers had expressed workplace concerns in an open letter to the firm’s executives in 2022, referring to Musk as a “distraction and embarrassment.”
According to a complaint from a regional official at the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB), SpaceX is alleged to have violated the workers’ rights under federal labour law, which permits co-workers to collectively advocate for improved working conditions. The complaint also asserts that those involved in the open letter faced interrogation before their dismissal.
Lawyers representing one of the terminated employees, Deborah Lawrence, have labelled SpaceX’s culture as “toxic,” suggesting a permissive environment for harassment. Lawrence emphasised that the open letter aimed at leadership was motivated by a genuine concern for the company’s mission and its people.
The NLRB’s general counsel functions as a prosecutor and is responsible for presenting cases to the board. If SpaceX does not reach a settlement, the case will proceed to an administrative judge, with potential appeals to the board and a federal appeals court. A hearing is scheduled for March 5.
Should the NLRB find the firings in violation of labour law, it holds the authority to order reinstatement and back pay for the affected workers. This accusation adds to a series of previous allegations of employees’ rights violations within Elon Musk’s companies.
In October, the NLRB accused another Musk-led company, X (formerly known as Twitter), of illegally firing an employee over tweets challenging the company’s return-to-office policy. Tesla, Musk’s electric car company, has also faced NLRB complaints, including allegations of race discrimination at its factories.
SpaceX previously encountered legal trouble in August when the US Department of Justice sued the company, alleging discrimination against refugees and asylum seekers in its hiring practices. Musk defended the company’s hiring policies on X, stating that US law mandates a green card for hiring at SpaceX due to rockets being considered advanced weapons technology.