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.
paypal – http://www.natlawreview.com/article/paying-piper-paypal-inc-settles-sanctions-violations-ofac-77-million
space x – http://blog.thomsonreuters.com/index.php/providing-proper-pay-and-breaks-isnt-rocket-science-spacex-worker-says/