SpaceX sues NLRB in an attempt to interrupt unfair labor case

The labor board filed a complaint accusing it of illegally firing eight workers who criticized Elon Musk.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently accused SpaceX of unlawfully firing eight employees who wrote an open letter criticizing Elon Musk's behavior on social media, as well as the company's response to it. Now, according to Bloomberg, SpaceX is trying to stall the complaint's progress by suing the labor board. The company reportedly argues in its lawsuit that the complaint should be dismissed because the NLRB's structure is "unconstitutional."

SpaceX's lawsuit attacks the way the labor board conducts its hearings. The NLRB uses its own administrative judges for its proceedings, and the company says that deprives it of its "constitutional right to trial by jury." Companies can appeal rulings by agency judges to NLRB members in Washington, and they could even go as far as to escalate their appeal to federal court. SpaceX apparently told the court that the case against it should be put on hold to prevent the company from having to go through "protracted administrative proceedings before an unconstitutionally structured agency."

The open letter at the center of this case called Musk's behavior on social media "a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment." It called out the executive's "harmful Twitter behavior," including a tweet wherein he made a joke about the sexual misconduct allegation made against him. The letter asked the company to hold all leadership accountable for their actions and to condemn harmful behavior. SpaceX fired a total of nine employees over the letter, the NLRB's complaint said, which means they were illegally fired for "engaging in protected concerted activity at work."

In its lawsuit, SpaceX said the open letter "caused significant distraction to SpaceX employees around the country" and that it fired the employees involved "for violating numerous company policies." As Reuters notes, the private space corporation used a similar tactic in the past to block the US Department of Justice from pursuing an administrative case that accused the company of discriminatory hiring practices. SpaceX also filed a lawsuit protesting the fact that the Justice Department's administrative judges have powers reserved for President-appointed officials even though they were only appointed by the US attorney general. The company successfully convinced the judge to pause the administrative case against it while its own lawsuit was ongoing.