SpaceXploiting Employees

We are in the midst of an incredibly exciting time in space exploration. After the Space Race between the United States and Russia piqued public interest in the late 1960s, there have been relatively few groundbreaking events in the field. The recent lack of publicity caused shifts in funding and the termination of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 2011. Ironically, Russia is now the only country currently able to send astronauts to the International Space Station.

This is where Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, SpaceX, comes into play. Founded by Elon Musk in 2002, SpaceX has been revolutionizing the aerospace industry through drastically reduced costs stemming from reusable rockets. I cannot fathom the complexity involved in safely landing a rocket falling from space, but that isn’t what drew me to SpaceX. Instead, it was the clarity of Musk’s overarching goal: to enable people to live on other planets, specifically Mars.

SpaceX has had their share of failures, but I would argue those are to be expected when setting such an ambitious goal. They have also had incredible successes, especially as of late when SpaceX safely returned the first stage of a rocket from space on December 21, 2015.

To go along with those successes and failures, though, is controversy. In researching SpaceX, I discovered multiple ongoing class action lawsuits against the company for labor violations. Joseph A. Smith, a former tool maker at SpaceX’s rocket making facility, claims that he was forced to underreport hours and not provided the rest periods mandated by California law. Another suit, filed by former structural technicians Bobby Lee and Bron Gatling, accuses SpaceX of failure to notify employees of a significant layoff (200-400 workers) within 60 days of the event.

These cases, and others like them, are still being decided. When I first heard about the alleged labor violations, I was inclined to write them off because the innovation and success SpaceX and Tesla have achieved left an almost god-like view of Musk in my mind. However, that view began to shift as a I realized- I don’t know Elon Musk. I know of his achievements and what his PR team thinks I should know. I appreciate his work and would argue that he is one of the most influential scientific minds of his generation, but none of that speaks to whether he treats his employees fairly. Based on accounts I have read on Musk as a person, and his determination to accomplish his goal of sustaining life on another planet, I think the court could find him guilty.

After selling PayPal, Musk could have retired comfortably. Instead, he focused on something that had never been done before, and something he believes is crucial to our survival and advancement as a species. Musk is at SpaceX to change the world, and if the people working for him don’t share that passion, they may become unhappy with the amount of work he expects. In the end, I can’t say that the labor violation allegations against SpaceX changed my opinion of the company. I will read articles about it with increased skepticism, but remain as excited as ever to see where they will go next.



8 thoughts on “SpaceXploiting Employees

  1. Nice post, Im always interesting in what Elon Musk is doing with his many revolutionary companies, specifically SpaceX. I read recently that they just obtained a military contract for a space satellite worth billions of dollars from one of its main competitors. SpaceX has received many billions of dollars in government funding; in addition to the labor issues raised in this post, many criticize SpaceX–a private company–for engaging in high risk projects on the taxpayers tab. Regardless, its amazing the progress that SpaceX has made in dramatically reducing the cost of rocket manufacturing and creating reusable rockets. To many, most even, it may sound ridiculous that Musk hopes to take humans to Mars in 10-20 years. He raises the point that the existence of the human raise could eventually depend on us becoming a multi-planetary species, a testament to his innovative thinking. To me, the desire to achieve this far-reaching objectives outweighs these view labor abuse cases, so my position on SpaceX remains relatively positive.


  2. I think you raise a great point – “I don’t know Elon Musk. I know of his achievements and what his PR team thinks I should know.” – and it is even more apparent after reading the cases for class and researching our own companies of choice. I’m realizing more and more that the “facts” that I think I know may not be as factual as I had thought. Marketing is becoming more and more advanced in being able to manipulate the way the public views information. I think it will be interesting to see things from another perspective, being in a position to decide what information is released and in what way.


  3. This reminds me of Steve Jobs. He was frequently accused of setting unrealistic expectations for his employees in order to spur innovation. He demanded perfection and caused many of his employees to work severe hours under inordinate pressure. The result: amazing innovation. Pushing people to their limits can be harmful, but can also result in amazing feats.


  4. I found this blog very interesting because with most famous innovators of our century most people know of their achievements, but nothing about who they are as a person. I can’t say I know Elon Musk personally, but I know a bunch of people that have worked with him. He is an extremely motivated person and of course very successful. Some of the people that I have talked with have said that he believes that you either do it his way or the highway. He doesn’t really care about your opinion and only worries about his own agenda.


  5. First of all very engaging post. I think going for SpaceX and Elon Musk was an excellent choice due to this aura that many people see when talking about him. I think if we look at Elon Musks overall projects -Tesla, PayPal, SpaceX, Hyperloop- we see innovation and incredible design both of which are very appealing concepts in the world we live in. However, looking at what Elon Musk has actually accomplished and materialized we can see that he hasn’t done all that well in keeping his word. Many of his Tesla cars have set on fire and exploded and the main reason why people are buying is thanks to government subsidies rather than the quality of the product per se. What I am trying to say by this is that Elon Musk is a visionary somebody who is focused on the “greater good” of the people. I can easily imagine how for him, some labor violations are just some workers left behind in the pursue of something much greater.


  6. It’s interesting to see how organizations with super-big goals or aspirations will exaggerate, cut corners, or straight up violate morale principles in their company because of how important it is that they reach the desired outcome. I mean, when you look at it, they are weighing out short-term workplace issues with making history in space and time, which one are they gonna lean to choose? The same can be seen in big pharma where researchers will skew data or direct experiments to resemble the findings they need to keep their funding in order to justify someday finding a cure for something.


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