A number of SpaceX employees were terminated for sending an open letter to the entire company with complaints about founder and CEO Elon Musk.
The subsequent firings were brought to light Thursday after the letter was sent to more than 2,600 employees via SpaceX’s internal chat systems the day before.
The letter, directed toward SpaceX executives, was accompanied by a request for fellow employees to sign in solidarity and complete a survey. It listed three demands for the executives, including explicitly separating the company from Musk’s personal brand, holding leadership accountable, and defining and enforcing the company’s "no asshole" and "zero-tolerance" policies.
"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," part of the letter read.
The letter authors did not allude to a specific tweet from their top executive. Musk was in the news recently for tweets announcing a switch to the Republican Party, voting for Texas congresswoman-elect Mayra Flores, and supporting a potential presidential run by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.). Musk is also an occasional internet troll and a meme enthusiast, winning him popular favor compared to other volatile billionaire CEOs in the public eye.
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell sent out a company-wide email Thursday calling the letter "overreaching activism" and a "distraction" in light of the company’s several upcoming projects.
"The letter, solicitations 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," she said, adding, "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 not acceptable, goes against our documented handbook policy, and does not show the strong judgement needed to work in this very challenging space transportation sector."
Shotwell said the company performed an investigation and fired several employees involved, adding that she expects all employee concerns to be directed to the appropriate channels.