In June, about 20 engineers were invited to a meeting held at the headquarters of rocket manufacturer SpaceX. The topic of the conversation was the company’s founder and CEO Elon Musk, writes New York Times.
The day before, the company decided to fire five employees who wrote a letter urging SpaceX to condemn Musk’s “harmful behavior on Twitter”, who used the social network to mock reports that SpaceX had settled a lawsuit against him about sexual harassment. Several engineers came to the meeting expecting to hear a sympathetic tone, as some managers and executives indicated they disapproved of Musk’s behavior.
But the previously unreported meeting quickly became “heated,” according to two SpaceX employees in attendance.
They said John Edwards, the vice president who chaired the meeting, characterized the letter as an act of extremism and said the authors were fired for distracting the company and taking on Mr. Musk. According to two female employees, Mr. Edwards did not answer the question of whether the executive director can sexually harass his employees with impunity. But they said a recurring theme at the meeting was that Mr. Musk could do whatever he wanted at the company.
Ultimately, SpaceX’s letter led to the firing of nine employees. Unfair labor practice charges were filed with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of eight of those workers, alleging that their terminations were illegal. The SpaceX case raises new questions about management practices at Elon Musk’s companies, where there is little tolerance for dissent or labor organization.
Tesla, the electric car manufacturer that Mr. Musk also runs, has resisted unionization attempts at its factories and is embroiled in legal action brought by workers who said they were not given adequate warning before a layoff in June.
After Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion last month, he immediately fired executives before laying off half of the company’s 7,500 employees. This week, he ordered subordinates to look through internal communications and public tweets by Twitter employees, leading to firing of dozens of critics.
Interviews with the eight SpaceX employees who filed the lawsuits emphasize that Musk has a tight grip on his employees, possibly even beyond the bounds of federal law. Six of those workers spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals and were not named in documents filed with the labor commission.