It took less than a day and a half for more than 400 SpaceX employees to sign an open letter criticizing CEO Elon Musk after it was posted and shared by some of his co-workers in an internal chat. Just 32 hours after sharing, the document’s internal landing page was taken down, around the same time a group of employees were fired for involvement in crafting and sharing the letter, an action that may have been a violation of labor law. .
The open letter was first posted on an internal landing page at noon eastern and then was shared by a handful of employees in about 10 chat rooms in Microsoft Teams, as well as on a list. of e-mail. The content was bold: employees claimed that Musk’s behavior in recent weeks had become a source of embarrassment and distraction for the company. The letter’s writers offered suggestions for ways SpaceX could distance itself from Musk’s presence on Twitter, as well as do better to hold executives and those who commit sexual harassment to account.
An employee who helped draft the letter but wished to remain anonymous stated that “a large number of employees across various demographics, roles and levels helped write the letter.” Employees had the option of signing the document by answering a survey or scanning a QR code.
The largest Teams channel where the document was shared had around 2,600 members, largely full of engineers, while the other Teams channels were relatively small. The writers also had plans to distribute a stack of physical copies of the letter, which also had QR codes for people to scan, in the production and food service areas. But no one was brave enough to hand them out before the layoffs began, according to one of the people involved. There were also concerns that posting copies of the letter would be perceived as a union organization and that cameras in the SpaceX building would reveal who distributed them. Before the landing page was closed, the writers saw that they received around 3,000 unique visitors to their site.
While the document garnered 404 signatures, many more people reached out to those who shared the letter on Signal, both in person and through Teams, saying they would sign if they could be fired right now, according to one person involved. In 2017, another Musk company, Tesla, fired an employee for handing out flyers encouraging employees to unionize. Additionally, in May of this year, Musk also tweeted that Tesla would be forming a “hardcore litigation department” to “initiate and execute lawsuits directly.”
Their fears proved believable as SpaceX management ended up laying off at least five employees for their involvement with the letter. SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell sent an email to the company, denouncing the document and informing the company of the terminations.
“We have a lot of critical work to do and there is no need for this kind of over-the-top activism – our current leadership team is more dedicated to ensuring we have a great and better work environment than any I have seen in my 35-year career. . ,” Shotwell wrote. Echoing the letter’s writers, she stated that the letter, not Musk’s behavior, was a source of distraction for SpaceX, which has a busy schedule in the coming days and weeks.
SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment from On the edge at publication time.
Shotwell also argued in his email that other employees not involved in the letter felt uncomfortable, intimidated and pressured to sign the document. However, two of those involved in its writing, speaking on condition of anonymity, dispute this claim. They say they simply posted the letter on Teams channels, pointing people to it and asking for support.
“There was no pressure on anyone to collect signatures,” said an employee who helped draft the letter, who also wanted to remain anonymous. “The open letter either stands on its own or not.”
Word of the employee layoffs spread throughout the company, and some current employees spoke out. On the edge their dismay at the actions the company has taken.
“I feel that, going forward, people who don’t agree 100% with Elon are going to have to keep their mouths shut or leave the company, which is very sad,” said a SpaceX employee, who was not involved in the letter. On the edge. “We all admire his intelligence, but his social behavior is unacceptable, and we find ourselves in a position where we are both proud and ashamed to work for SpaceX.”