Falcon 9 booster tank on SpaceX factory floor. Credit: Flickr/Steve Jurvetson

PARIS — What happens when Silicon Valley’s work-until-you-drop-and-count-stock-options ethos meets skilled production-line labor armed with decades of case law?

Litigation is one answer, and this could explain an Oct. 19 lawsuit alleging  SpaceX violated California labor law in not properly accounting for overtime and missed mealtimes of hourly employees.

SpaceX employee gather near an assembled Falcon 9 booster. Credit: Pinterest/Adam
SpaceX employees gather near assembled booster. Credit: Pinterest/Adam

The lawsuit by Stan Saporito was filed in California’s Los Angeles County Superior Court. The lawsuit says Saporito worked at Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX from January 2013 to last February, in an unspecified position. He described himself on LinkedIn as a “Structures/Integration technician” and characterized his time at SpaceX this way:

“Earned standing as the “Go-To” Technician for Special Projects, Hot tasks and important work orders in a high-pressure, deadline-oriented environment.

Collaborated with engineers for development/prototyping. Graduated from inexperienced rocket technician to leader/trainer within four months of entering commercial-spacecraft industry.

“Seized all opportunities for technical training and knowledge-building in concepts unique to commercial spacecraft field. Competent with aspects of propulsion, avionics, engine fundamentals.”

The suit alleges multiple violations of California labor law, including allowing workers to go more than five hours without a 30-minute meal break, and not counting overtime.

Saporito’s suit is intended as a class action for what it says are an uncounted number of SpaceX employees who were subjected to the same treatment.

In an Oct. 21 statement, SpaceX said it “denies the claims made in this complaint and will refute them in court.”

The suit says SpaceX managers presented performance goals to employees that could not be met in a 40-hour workweek, but then refused to account for the overtime that inevitably resulted.

“SpaceX required plaintiff to work off the clock and California Class members to work off the clock, without paying them for all of the time they were under SpaceX’s control, performing post-shift duties, specifically by failing to provide enough labor hours to accomplish all the job tasks that SpaceX expected plaintiff and California Class members to complete,” the suit says.

“Plaintiff and California Class members were required to clock out of SpaceX’s timekeeping system in order to perform additional work for SpaceX as required to meet SpaceX’s job requirements.”

The company “directed its employees to alter their time records, or ‘shave’ the time worked,” according to the lawsuit.

Saporito asked for a jury trial.

Industry observers (including SpaceX fans, customers and competitors) have long wondered about SpaceX’s profit and loss statement – which the company does not disclose — and specifically how SpaceX has managed to build such low-priced rockets while performing almost all the manufacturing itself in one of the world’s highest-labor-cost regions in Southern California.

The company has now grown to more than 4,000 employees, a size that is almost certain to include multiple levels of employee enthusiasm and personal history as measured on the gung-ho scale.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.