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Workers Who Said Elon Musk Violates SpaceX's 'Zero Asshole' Policy Find Out 'Free Speech' Doesn't Protect Their Asses From Getting Fired

Paul Harris. Getty Images.

Another day, another Elon Musk story comes streaking across the internet like one of his own rockets. He's like a Reality TV figure, always figuring out a way to stay relevant by picking fights, dating someone famous, manufacturing controversy, showing up to galas and premieres, mixing in the occasional nipslip, and making a baby whenever necessary to dominate the news cycle. Except in his case, the Reality is real. 

The guy has spent so much time swimming in the waters of blogworthiness, been so embroiled in high profile feuds with his employees at Tesla and his future staff at Twitter, that it's understandable if you forget he's also the CEO of planet Earth's No. 1 company in the Getting People Off Planet Earth industry, SpaceX. And apparently some of his employees there are none too happy with the way the boss has been talking so publicly about the workers at the other two.

Source - SpaceX, the private rocket company, on Thursday fired employees who helped write and distribute an open letter criticizing the behavior of chief executive Elon Musk, said three employees with knowledge of the situation.

Some SpaceX employees began circulating the letter, which denounced Mr. Musk’s activity on Twitter, on Wednesday. The letter called the billionaire’s public behavior and tweeting “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment” and asked the company to rein him in. Mr. Musk is currently closing a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter.

By Thursday afternoon, SpaceX had fired some of the letter’s organizers, according to the three employees and an email from Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer. …

“The letter, solicitations and general process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views,” Ms. Shotwell wrote. … “Blanketing thousands of people across the company with repeated unsolicited emails and asking them to sign letters and fill out unsponsored surveys during the work day is not acceptable.

“Please stay focused on the SpaceX mission, and use your time to do your best work,” she continued. “This is how we will get to Mars.”

Here's just a part of the email President and COO Shotwell fired these people for:

SpaceX’s current systems and culture do not live up to its stated values, as many employees continue to experience unequal enforcement of our oft-repeated “No Asshole” and “Zero Tolerance” policies. This must change. As a starting point, we are putting forth the following categories of action items, the specifics of which we would like to discuss in person with the executive team within a month:

Publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior. SpaceX must swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand.

That list of "action items" goes on for three more long, indignant, self-righteous paragraphs that I will spare you in the interest of time. 

Maybe I'm putting too much faith in the people working to get us to Mars. Especially given that some of them are probably literal rocket scientists. But these are strange days indeed when the very workers we use as a metaphor for intelligence are too fucking dumb to realize you can't call your boss an "asshole" in a company-wide email and start issuing demands like you've taken hostages.

Of course some will seize on this and say it's proof that Musk is just a hypocrite who talks a good game about free expression until someone starts calling him names. But don't even bother making that argument because it's a non-starter. You can believe Twitter is (to use the cliche) the "public square" where free ideas should be exchanged. But no thinking adult who has ever held a job could argue that extends to the workplace. That the ability to go on social media and tell someone you disagree with they're an asshole means you get to say the same thing about the people who pay your salary with no consequences. Swearing at your congressman is a constitutionally protected right. Swearing at your boss is career suicide 99% of the time. When you bite the hand that feeds you, you go hungry. Just ask Michael Rapoport

I tend to think this is part of a larger, national, sociological trend. People so caught up in their own sense of self-importance that they're confused about who works for whom. Meaning they've convinced themselves their employer is there to serve them, not the other way around. Maybe it stems from so many of us being stuck home working remotely for so long that they lost all perspective of what the workplace dynamic is. Like it's their birthright to stay in their pajamas, leave the bathroom door open, take PorhHub breaks whenever they want, and still get paid. So now that freedom extends to them being allowed to spend hours badmouthing the company on company time. And if they don't much care for the way things are being done, well then by golly it's up to the bosses to make it right and turn their frowns upside down. 

There's just one flaw in that thinking. If you're going to go that route, you'd better be indispensable. Like the entire mission of SpaceX better depend on you showing up to work Monday morning. As Charles deGalle put it, the cemeteries are filled with indispensable men. So are the unemployment offices. Somehow I think Musk will get us to Mars anyway.