WASHINGTON — The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is proceeding with a complaint against SpaceX by eight former employees who allege they were illegally fired for circulating an open letter within the company.

The NLRB issued a formal complaint Jan. 3 against SpaceX, consolidating eight cases filed by individual employees against the company in November 2022 who said they were fired for activities protected under the National Labor Relations Act.

The complaint stems the circulation of an open letter on a company computer system in June 2022 calling on SpaceX to distance itself from the social media activities of its chief executive, Elon Musk. “Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us,” the letter stated. “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.”

The letter called on SpaceX to “swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand” and to clearly define the company’s “zero tolerance” policies for unacceptable behavior, which the letter claims were being unequally enforced.

SpaceX fired some the employees, whose identities are redacted in the public complaint, immediately after the release of the open letter and others in subsequent weeks. The NLRB complaint noted that SpaceX officials, whose identities are also redacted, “impliedly invited employees to quit if they wished to engage in protected concerted activities” and “impliedly threatened employees with discharge if they continued discussion of the issues contained in the Open Letter.”

The complaint adds that SpaceX showed or read aloud communications among the employees about the letter, which “created an impression among its employees that their protected concerted activities were under surveillance” by the company.

The NLRB concluded that SpaceX “has been interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed” under the National Labor Relations Act. The agency is seeking remedies that include training on the act for SpaceX managers and sending letters of apology to the fired employees. The complaint does not specify any monetary damages but adds that the board “seeks all other relief as may be just and proper to remedy the unfair labor practices alleged.”

SpaceX has not commented on the complaint but has until Jan. 17 to file a formal answer of the complaint with the NLRB. A hearing on the complaint is scheduled for March 5, but adds that it “encourages the parties to engage in settlement efforts” before then.

SpaceX has not taken any obvious steps to address the former employees’ request to separate itself from Musk’s social media activities. It has arguably moved even closer, particularly after Musk acquired Twitter in October 2022 and renamed it X. SpaceX has consolidated its social media activities as well as livestreams of launches on X.

On the same day that the NLRB issued its complaint against SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of the company, posted on X for the first time. “2024 is off to a roaring start with the launch of @Starlink and our first Direct to Cell satellites yesterday and a Swedish GEO satellite today!” she posted after the Falcon 9 launch of the Ozvon 3 satellite.

She also congratulated the SpaceX workforce for a “record breaking 2023” in launches and growth of Starlink customers. “These achievements would not have been possible without their dedication and determination and overall greatness.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...