SpaceX has fired a number of employees who wrote and shared a letter criticizing the behavior of CEO Elon Musk, with the company’s president criticizing the letter as “overreaching activism.”
The open letter, first reported by The Verge, described Musk’s behavior as “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks.” It cites SpaceX’s “No Asshole” policy and asks the company to “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior.”
Said the letter writers: “As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX — every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company. It is critical to make clear to our teams and to our potential talent pool that his messaging from him does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values.”
A number of the letter’s drafters were fired Thursday afternoon, according to an email sent by SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell and seen by The Verge. News of the firing was first reported by The New York Times.
In the email, Shotwell said SpaceX had “terminated a number of employees involved” in crafting the letter. “The letter, requests 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,” wrote Shotwell. “We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism.”
One employee who had input in writing the letter, who asked to remain anonymous, argued that the general sentiment among other employees is that Shotwell’s email is “tone deaf.” The employee claimed that the letter was the result of a “month of dedicated hard work and soliciting feedback to try and make sure we got as much input as possible.”
We’ve reached out to SpaceX for comment and will update this story if we hear back.
Musk has long been a volatile figure, but since his proposed acquisition of Twitter in April — a $44 billion deal that has yet to be finalized — his behavior has attracted even more attention. Last month, insider reported that SpaceX paid a flight attendant $250,000 after Musk allegedly exposed himself to her and propositioned her. Musk later joked about the incident on Twitter, telling another user “if you touch my wiener, you can have a horse.”
You can read Shotwell’s email to the company below:
You may have received an unsolicited request from a small group of SpaceX employees for your signature on an “open letter” yesterday and your participation in a related survey. Based on diverse employee feedback, this has upset many. That is, the letter, requests 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. Employees also complained that it interfered with their ability to focus on and do their work. We have 3 launches within 37 hours for critical satellites this weekend, we have to support the astronauts we delivered to the ISS and get cargo Dragon back to the flight-ready, and after receiving environmental approval early this week, we are on the cusp of the first orbital launch attempt of Starship. We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism — our current leadership team is more dedicated to ensuring we have a great and ever-improving work environment than any I have seen in my 35-years career.
We request and expect our employees to report all concerns to their leadership, senior management, HR, or Legal. But blanketing thousands of people across the company with repeated unsolicited emails and asking them to sign letters and fill out unsponsored surveys during the work day is unacceptable, goes against our documented handbook policy, and does not show the strong judgment needed to work in this very challenging space transportation sector. We performed an investigation and have terminated a number of employees involved.
I am sorry for this distraction. Please stay focused on the SpaceX mission, and use your time at work to do your best work. This is how we will get to Mars.
Update Friday 17 June, 4:20AM: The story has been updated with Shotwell’s full letter.