SpaceX employees who were fired after criticizing Elon Musk file NLRB complaint

The case centers on an open letter that circulated in June.

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Eight former SpaceX employees said they were illegally fired for penning a letter criticizing Elon Musk have filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the company, according to The New York Times. If you'll recall, The Times reported back in June that SpaceX fired employees involved in writing an open letter condemning Elon Musk's "harmful Twitter behavior." In particular, they were referencing how the CEO made crude jokes on Twitter about a sexual misconduct accusation against him by a flight attendant for the company's corporate jet. SpaceX paid $250,000 to settle with the flight attendant, who claimed that Musk offered to buy her a horse in exchange for sex acts.

Apparently, nine workers lost their jobs over the letter, and the charges were filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for eight of them. "Elon's behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us," part of the letter read. The people who penned the letter also included proposals on how to make the company better and how to strengthen its sexual harassment policies, including the suggestion that SpaceX should disclose any other harassment claims against Musk.

SpaceX executives were reportedly sympathetic in the beginning and seemed like they were receptive to the ideas the workers included in the proposals. However, they quickly changed their tune. SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell told employees in a letter back then that some employees involved in writing the letter had indeed been terminated. "The letter, solicitations and general process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views," she added.

The legal experts The Times consulted said the workers are most likely protected under the National Labor Relations Act, which gives them the right to self-organize and band together for collective bargaining or other "mutual aid or protection." Wilma Liebman, the former NLRB chairperson under Barack Obama, told the publication that SpaceX could argue that the workers penned the letter only to criticize Musk, which isn't protected by the law. However, she said that the board would probably disagree and would see Musk's tweets as an act that creates a hostile work environment.

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