SpaceX workers who criticized CEO Elon Musk for being 'distracting and embarrassing' have been charged with unlawful retaliatory firing by the NLRB.

SpaceX has been accused by the US Labor Board of illegally firing eight employees in an internal letter that strongly criticized CEO Elon Musk.

A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against SpaceX on Wednesday, alleging the company illegally investigated, monitored and retaliated against workers, agency spokeswoman Kayla Blaydo said in an email. Among the fired workers were those who wrote an open letter in 2022 protesting Musk's “inappropriate, derogatory, sexist allegations on Twitter,” their lawyers wrote when they brought the lawsuit in 2022.

In the NLRB's complaint, SpaceX management said it fired employees because of their open letter, which restricted others from distributing it and threatened them with termination if they engaged in collective action, Blado said.

“Rockets at SpaceX are reusable, but those who build them are considered expendable,” Paige Holland-Thielen, one of the workers, said in an emailed statement. “I believe these charges hold SpaceX and its leadership accountable for their long history of mistreating workers and stifling free speech.”

The company, called Space Exploration Technologies Corp., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The hearing will begin on March 5, the NLRB said.

In June 2022, a group of employees circulated an open letter However, internal SpaceX communications channels have criticized Musk's online behavior and called on the company to distance itself from his public comments.

“Elon's behavior in the public arena has often caused us concern and embarrassment, particularly in recent weeks,” the letter stated.

Shortly after the letter circulated at SpaceX, several employees involved in drafting the letter were fired.

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Complaints filed by NLRB prosecutors are reviewed by agency judges, whose rulings can be appealed to NLRB members in Washington and then to federal court. The agency has the authority to order companies to reinstate and pay workers who have been fired, but generally cannot hold executives personally liable for alleged wrongdoing or punitive damages.

Federal law protects the right of employees to communicate and protest collectively about their working conditions, with or without a union.

Although Musk has declared himself a “libertarian of free speech,” his companies have been repeatedly accused by the U.S. government of trying to silence workers. Last year, SpaceX settled a claim that it illegally tried to silence an employee's speech. Separately, an NLRB regional director ruled that Musk's social media company X settled with a former employee who was illegally fired after contesting an order to return to the office. Members of the NLRB are considering Musk's electric car maker Tesla Inc. Convicted of illegally firing an activist, Musk threatening workers on social media; Tesla appealed in federal court.

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