Only Half the Equation (Space X, but no Time)

The forefront of technology is perhaps the most competitive corporate playing field to date. To make it even more competitive, take Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, Space X. It operates with the goal “[…] to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.” Clearly, this is something that has never been done before and, in my opinion, is quite an ambitious goal to have. Based on the amount of work required for such a feat it would not surprise me to hear about the long and grueling hours endured by SpaceX’s employees. What does surprise me is hearing about employees being forced to work “off-the-clock” and being denied of lunch and rest breaks. In Will’s previous blog posts he mentions recent lawsuits filed on behalf of employees dissatisfied with the way that they were being compensated and treated by SpaceX.

At first, I was understanding of the egregious work conditions detailed in the filings. The lawsuit claimed that SpaceX made employees work after clocking out, did not allow rest breaks or lunch breaks as mandated by California labor law and did not notify employees within an appropriate time frame of a large layoff of 400 employees. The lawsuit soon took class action status where a collection of employees came forwards after Joseph A. Smith’s original accusation. Since the filing the lawsuit has either come to a private settlement or is still in court today. Suspiciously, Google does not suggest anything as you type in, “SpaceX labor law violations” and unless I wrote that exact phrase then nothing remotely close to the lawsuit would even appear in the search results. Usually Google is on top of these things so I definitely find it suspicious when the search results with nothing.

Let me just say that while Will takes these issues up by calling out Elon Musk and acknowledging that he does not truly know the man, I do not think that Elon Musk knew about these misappropriations to worker treatment. My previous blog, which talked about another one of Musk’s ventures, SolarCity, revealed no such similar issues arose. As well, PayPal’s only lawsuits concern the processing of payments for a Pakistani nuclear arms dealer, but that is another story altogether.  While the case may not yet be settled, I think that these violations could easily be true. However, I don’t think that Elon is to blame as this issue is probably caused by the company’s managers. I say that because the managers are the ones who communicate to actual employees, and Elon Musk is too experienced to think that a successful company can operate in this capacity. As for a reason, I think that SpaceX is under huge pressure from a multitude of stakeholders which ultimately leads to pressure on managers to obtain results. SpaceX has large investments from firms such as Google and NASA who are similarly at the forefront of technology; these large businesses can only invest in a company that can promise results, coupled with the goals displayed on SpaceX’s website and their commitments to investors it only makes sense that they must require a work quota. Unfortunately, they cannot control the time it takes for employees to accomplish tasks, so in fear of losing their job over less than expected progress, managers require employees to keep working and refuse to give breaks. When all is said and done, this can come back to Elon Musk for originally setting these ambitious goals, but I do not think that he can be totally blamed.

These observations lead me to the conclusion that SpaceX may have  bitten off a little more than it can chew. Operating in such an expensive industry, no time can be wasted. While I want SpaceX to accomplish its goals I am more concerned for their commitment to responsible management; if they are off schedule then they should address these concerns with investors and not take the pressure off by mistreating employees. At the end of the day, I think a private settlement will result from the lawsuit and Elon Musk will continue to operate his variety of  businesses to bring us into the future at the forefront of payment, energy and space technologies.



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6 thoughts on “Only Half the Equation (Space X, but no Time)

  1. “However, I don’t think that Elon is to blame as this issue is probably caused by the company’s managers. I say that because the managers are the ones who communicate to actual employees, and Elon Musk is too experienced to think that a successful company can operate in this capacity.”

    I’m not sure if this is quite enough for me to be convinced that he didn’t know – I think I would be tempted to think that because the man is an icon, but here’s a link to a site with a couple interesting quotes (allegedly) from him.

    “Tell those people they will get to see their families a lot when we go bankrupt,”

    “That is no excuse. I am extremely disappointed. You need to figure out where your priorities are. We’re changing the world and changing history, and you either commit or you don’t”

    (this later quote was supposedly to someone who missed work to witness the birth of their baby, but Musk contests it as false)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, Josiah. You raise some interesting points about the nature of Musk’s involvement. I do think that it is still possible for Musk to have played some role in the overworking of the employees. If the alleged quotes were truly said by Musk then my view of him as a person would definitely change. It would be helpful to know the context of the first quotes but either way the comments are abhorable.

      I still think that these comments can be attributed to Musk’s ambitious goal setting and that, even he himself, is falling victim to the anger of not meeting expectations. Like I said in the blog, SpaceX is seeking to change the way in which we live and that is not something that can be accomplished without change. Perhaps Musk has put too much pressure on himself, instead of leading three companies maybe he should just stick to one as I know that being the CEO of one firm leaves you prone to immense stress, I cannot imagine the stress induced by three.


  2. Apparently the past two weeks of this blog are casting serious doubts over Elon Musk’s behavior with regards to treatment of various stakeholder groups. I agree with Zach that Elon himself is not to blame for these isolated incidents of worker abuses. The guy manages major corporations–Tesla, SolarCity, SpaceX-while also working on ideas such as hyperloop and whatever other projects he is let to reveal. I think Elon is too busy throughout the course of his day to become fully concerned with whether or not a couple employees are being forced to work a bit late. Its not as though SpaceX is the only company where this has happened. Musk had to sacrifice a lot to get where he is today; hard work and extended commitment are in his blood, which is why he has been such a revolutionary icon and why he might expect so might from his employees.

    I think its unfair to his accomplishments and legacy to magnify these limited cases of abuse and pin the blame so much on Elon Musk. After all, he is human.


  3. Very interesting post, Zach. I realize Musk is an incredibly busy person who is likely not very involved with day-to-day operations at his factories, but would argue that he sets the tone for the company and that tone permeates through all levels of the organization. When he sets these ambitious, potentially unrealistic goals, it is on executives and managers to meet them and the only way they can is by overworking employees.

    I also hadn’t considered the fact that Google having a significant investment in SpaceX could influence search results, or at the very least search predictions.


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