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SpaceX fires at least 5 workers after internal letter criticizes ‘Free speech absolutist’ Elon Musk

Elon Musk’s influence has loomed big over this year in tech, owing to his planned purchase of Twitter in a transaction that might be worth $44 billion. That seems to be going poorly, with critics split on whether Musk is attempting to negotiate a lower price for what appears to be an overpriced product or withdrawing from the contract completely. The nature of Musk, outside of Bill Gates, is perhaps the most high-profile billionaire in the world, and a guy with fingers in many significant pies, which is one of the reasons the Twitter transaction has gotten so much attention.

Tesla and SpaceX are the two most well-known, and Musk’s detractors worry about how many significant enterprises he can manage at the same time: the fact that he’s clowning himself on Twitter doesn’t help, either. This was the topic of a widely shared open letter from SpaceX workers, which was originally reported on by The Verge. Musk’s public behavior, particularly his tweeting, was described in the letter as “a regular cause of distraction and humiliation […] every Tweet Elon writes is a de facto public statement by the corporation.”

It references SpaceX’s “No assholes” workplace guideline and requests that management “publicly confront and denounce Elon’s detrimental Twitter conduct.” On Wednesday, June 14th, the letter was made public. Multiple staffers engaged in the letter’s organization were dismissed by Thursday afternoon, according to the New York Times. It cites an email sent to SpaceX workers by Gwynne Shotwell, the company’s president and chief operating officer:

“You may have received an unsolicited request for your signature on an ‘open letter’ and participation in a related survey from a small number of SpaceX workers yesterday. This has angered many employees, according to various employee responses. That is, the letter, solicitations, and whole procedure made workers feel uneasy, intimidated, and bullied, as well as upset, since the message pushed them to sign something that did not match their values.”

Shotwell goes on to discuss some of SpaceX’s current initiatives as well as some of the company’s urgent goals. She argues, “We have too much critical work to do and no need for this type of overreaching activity.” SpaceX has adequate channels for any workplace complaints, according to the email, and blanket emailing of coworkers on things like this is prohibited.

“We conducted an inquiry and fired some of the staff implicated. Please accept my apologies for the interruption. Please keep focused on the SpaceX mission and put out your best effort at work. This is the route we’ll use to reach Mars.” It’s unclear how many SpaceX workers were dismissed as a consequence of the probe, but according to Reuters, at least five people were let go.

This letter comes with a lot of background. It came after months of Musk behaving childishly on Twitter, which at times bordered on farce, such as when he got into a fight with videogame satire website Hard Drive, which clowned him on the social media site before publishing an article with the perfect headline ‘Elon Musk offers to buy rake he stepped on.

Musk has also faced more severe allegations throughout this time. Musk allegedly propositioned a flight attendant for a sexual massage on a trip to London in 2016, according to a Business Insider story based on a 2018 settlement. The attendant said that he had been exposed and promised to purchase her a horse.

Musk calls the paper a “politically driven attack job” and claims that the allegations are “completely false.” He then went on to make a joke about them on Twitter, telling another user, “If you touch my wiener, you can have a horse.” There has been significant concern regarding Musk’s attitude to remote working, in addition to his public-facing concerns. In early June, he informed SpaceX staff that if they don’t work 40 hours a week, they’ll be fired, which might have influenced the letter.

Musk and SpaceX have not yet responded to the news: He’s been tweeting about Top Gun: Maverick and the falling birth rate in the United States lately. Few would argue that businesses have the right to terminate workers who do not follow the rules. It’s a little more difficult to say whether an open letter qualifies for such a harsh penalty. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, we can all agree that firing workers who complain about you is a bad look for a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist.”

Source: PC Gamer

What do you think?

Written by Alex Bruno

Freelance space writer Alex Bruno specializes in covering China's quickly expanding space industry. In 2021, he started writing for SpaceXMania. He also contributes to publications including SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, and New Scientist. When Alex was a small child, he first experienced the space bug after seeing Voyager photographs of alien planets in our solar system. When not in space, Alex likes to go trail jogging in the Finnish countryside.

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  1. Elon Musk can say what he wants outside of Space X. Free speech, remember?

    At Space X, he’s the boss. Insubordination to this level is intolerable in any “normally run” company (with exception of Disney, where management caves in to crybabies). You don’t criticize your boss like this.

  2. Liberal…for sure. If I owned a business and some of my employees criticized me, and it appears because Musk is leaning conservative, they would be fired. Their are people out there needing jobs that don’t have that liberal “I’m so much better than you, and I deserve everything, ” attitude.

  3. What a hack job article. Is it that you feel work place structure is no longer needed? Do you feel that employees should determine the number of hours they work. You are the problem with today’s society.