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SpaceX employee letter: Musk’s behavior is “frequent source of embarrassment”

Elon Musk wearing a tuxedo as he arrives at the 2022 Met Gala.
Enlarge / Elon Musk arrives for the 2022 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2022, in New York.

Getty Images | Angela Weiss

SpaceX employees are circulating a letter that urges company executives to condemn CEO Elon Musk’s public behavior. The letter was reported today and published in full by The Verge, which said it was shared Wednesday “in an internal SpaceX Microsoft Teams channel with more than 2,600 employees.”

The letter says executives should “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior.”

“SpaceX must swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand,” the letter says. The letter is the result of a collaboration between “employees across the spectra of gender, ethnicity, seniority, and technical roles,” it says. The letter also asks for an in-person meeting with executives to discuss the employees’ requests.

The number of signatures gathered isn’t known, but employees “are being encouraged to sign onto the letter’s suggestions, either publicly or anonymously, with a signed version of the letter to be delivered to the desk of SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell,” The Verge wrote.

“In light of recent allegations against our CEO and his public disparagement of the situation, we would like to deliver feedback on how these events affect our company’s reputation, and through it, our mission,” the letter begins. That’s a reference to a Business Insider report last month that SpaceX “paid a flight attendant $250,000 to settle a sexual misconduct claim” against Elon Musk in 2018.

Musk wrote on Twitter that “it never happened,” and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell defended him in a company-wide email. “Personally, I believe the allegations to be false; not because I work for Elon, but because I have worked closely with him for 20 years and never seen nor heard anything resembling these allegations,” Shotwell wrote to staff, according to CNBC.

Musk’s behavior an “embarrassment for us”

The letter circulated by employees doesn’t make any further reference to the sexual misconduct allegation against Musk. It doesn’t cite any specific Musk tweets, but it says that “Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks. 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 does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values.”

The letter also says, “Many employees continue to experience unequal enforcement of our oft-repeated ‘No Asshole’ and ‘Zero Tolerance’ policies.” The letter urges executives to clearly define and consistently enforce those policies.

“SpaceX must establish safe avenues for reporting and uphold clear repercussions for all unacceptable behavior, whether from the CEO or an employee starting their first day,” the letter said.

The letter ends by urging executives to “consider how our actions today will shape the experiences of individuals beyond our planet. Is the culture we are fostering now the one which we aim to bring to Mars and beyond?” The collaboration needed to achieve SpaceX’s mission “to make life multiplanetary is incompatible with a culture that treats employees as consumable resources,” it said.

According to The Verge, the “letter generated more than a hundred comments in the Teams channel, with many employees agreeing to the spirit of the missive, according to screenshots of the chat shared by two sources who spoke with The Verge and asked to remain anonymous. Some commenters also claimed to be embarrassed by Musk’s behavior. Others expressed a desire for the company to better address executive leadership behavior as well as sexual harassment complaints.”

Sexual harassment allegations at Musk-led companies

In December 2021, former SpaceX mission integration engineer Ashley Kosak alleged that she reported incidents of sexual harassment to the human resources department, and “nothing was done.”

Musk is also CEO of Tesla, which is facing seven lawsuits from women who allege the company failed to stop rampant sexual harassment at factory facilities in Fremont, California, and service centers in the Los Angeles area. Tesla was also recently ordered by a judge to pay an ex-worker $15 million for “disturbing” racist abuse.

Meanwhile, Musk has a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter, where employees are concerned about his potential ownership. Musk has been waffling on his commitment to buy the company but is reportedly expected to “confirm his desire to own Twitter” in a meeting with the social network’s employees today.

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