About 20 engineers were invited to the meeting at the headquarters of rocket maker SpaceX. Topic of conversation: Elon Musk, founder and CEO of the company.
A day earlier, the company moved to dismiss five employees who wrote a letter to SpaceX condemning Mr Musk’s damaging Twitter behaviour, which brought to light a news report fabricated by SpaceX.
Many engineers entered the meeting expecting a sympathetic ear, as some managers and executives indicated they did not condone Mr. Musk’s behavior. But the meeting, which had not previously been reported, heated up quickly, according to two SpaceX employees in attendance.
He said John Edwards, the vice chairman who led the meeting, described the letter as an extremist act and announced that the writers had been fired for distracting the company and taking on Mr Musk. When asked whether the chief executive can sexually harass his employees.
Edwards did not respond, the two employees said, but he said a recurring theme in the meeting was that Mr. Musk could do whatever he wanted with the company. SpaceX is Elon and Elon is SpaceX.
The letter from SpaceX ultimately led to nine employees being fired, according to the employees and their lawyers. On Wednesday, unfair-labor-practice charges were filed with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of those eight workers, arguing that their firing was illegal.
The SpaceX case raises new questions about management practices at Mr Musk’s companies, where there is little tolerance for dissent or labor organizing. Electric carmaker Tesla, run by Musk, has resisted unionization efforts at its factories and is embroiled in legal action brought by workers who said they were not given enough warning ahead of layoffs in June.
After Mr Musk acquired Twitter last month for $44 billion, he quickly fired executives before laying off half of Twitter’s 7,500 employees.
Interviews with eight SpaceX employees suggest Mr Musk has a tight grip on workplaces, perhaps even beyond the limits of federal law. Six of those employees spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation and in labor board filings.
Legal experts said the law, which gives workers the right to come together for mutual aid or protection, likely protects the authorship of the letter that asked SpaceX to question its harassment policies in addition to addressing Mr. Musk’s online habits. asked to discuss.
Elon Musk and Mr Edwards did not respond to requests for comment on the former employees’ allegations. Many of the roughly 11,000 employees who work at SpaceX do so because of the rocket maker founded by Mr Musk in 2002 and based in Hawthorne California for the mission. -based company seeks to send people to Mars and make humans a multiplanetary species.
Several former employees who filed labor charges in interviews said this mission sometimes distracted them from their chief executive. Elon Musk has openly railed against politicians and government agencies who usurp federal contracts. More troubling, these employees said, is a culture that appears to tolerate sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
In December, a former employee published an essay describing multiple instances of co-workers being harassed and groped. She said that when she reported the incidents there was little or no follow-up. After the essay came to light, other employees began talking about patterns of violent behavior by male coworkers.