SpaceX illegally fired eight workers who wrote an open letter laying out their concerns with the management and culture at Elon Musk’s rocket company, according to prosecutors at the National Labor Relations Board.
The NLRB officials allege in a complaint filed Wednesday that SpaceX interrogated workers about the letter and pressured them not to distribute it, according to board spokesperson Kayla Blado. The letter had directly criticized Musk’s behavior on social media.
The complaint also claims the company “invited employees to quit” and threatened them with termination for exercising their rights, Blado said.
SpaceX, which is based in Hawthorne, California, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It is against the law for employers to retaliate against workers for exercising “protected concerted activity,” or banding together with other workers in hopes of improving their working conditions. Employers who violate the law can be ordered to offer reinstatement or other measures to make workers whole.
Late last year an attorney filed charges with the labor board against SpaceX alleging the company had fired several workers for “speaking up against SpaceX’s failure and refusal to address the culture of sexism, harassment and discrimination that permeates the workplace.” Employees had written the open letter in 2022 and cited some of Musk’s tweets on his social media platform now known as X, according to the charges.
The decision by the NLRB’s general counsel to pursue a case against SpaceX means investigators at the board looked into the allegations and found merit in them. Barring a settlement between the board and the company, the case would go to a hearing in which witnesses are called for both sides.
The charges submitted to the labor board alleged that after firing five workers, SpaceX continued a “campaign of retaliation and intimidation,” including “coercive interrogations” that led to another three terminations. They also said that during interviews, management showed workers screenshots from private Signal chat groups, making them believe they were being watched.
One of the fired workers told The New York Times in November that “it was hard for me to believe what was happening, it was so brazen.”
Musk, the founder of electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla, created SpaceX in 2002 with the aspiration of one day sending people to Mars. He purchased X, then known as Twitter, in 2022 for $44 billion. He said last year that he had laid off 6,000 employees since acquiring it.
X has suffered from an exodus of advertisers no longer willing to promote their products on the platform under Musk’s management. Musk recently said such companies can “go f**k” themselves.