The company SpaceX, or Space Exploration Technologies Corporation as it is more formally known, was the brainchild of Elon Musk, former CEO of Tesla Motors and one of the entrepreneurs behind online payment platform PayPal. Musk started the company with lofty ambitions including making reusable spacecraft that could come back from space and be easily set up for another journey, much like normal commercial jet planes, and even growing plants on Mars.
The California based company is a prestigious place for engineers and technicians to work, and has received a lot of praise over the achievements it has already made, including making deliveries to the International Space Station under contract from NASA.
However, not for the first time, SpaceX has come under fire legally over the way its staff are treated. A recent lawsuit filed by technician Stan Saporito claims that SpaceX expect hourly paid staff to continue working unpaid off the clock, and fail to provide meal and rest breaks required under California state law.
Stan Saporito’s Claims
Stan Saporito was, according to his own resume on LinkedIn, employed by SpaceX as a structures and integration technician from summer 2013 to February 2015. He claims that staff, including himself, were asked to round down the hours they had worked when filling out time reporting, and were required to perform some post shift tasks after clocking off, and therefore unpaid. The lawsuit also claims that the company did not make enough payable hours available to complete the work expected, and so staff were expected to continue working for free, even though they were employed on an hourly basis.
The lawsuit also claims that staff were not given the meal breaks required by the laws in California, and yet were still expected to fill out time sheets as if a meal break had been taken.
Saporito is asking for a trial by jury and is ultimately seeking $5 million in damages out of this class action lawsuit.
SpaceX have not yet formally responded to the lawsuit, and have 30 days from the date it was filed to do so.
This is an interesting case because it follows on from similar lawsuits against SpaceX and their treatment of staff, two in 2014 and one in 2015.
While some analysts say that working for cutting edge start ups, particularly in high profile industries like this, does create a competitive environment where the culture may actually trend towards people doing extra unpaid work or skipping breaks in a bid to get ahead, without the company sanctioning this behavior or demanding it, it is clear by the frequency and scale of class action lawsuits against SpaceX that something does need to be done about the way employees are seeing their company’s treatment of them.
It will be of interest to the engineering and tech industry as a whole to see if Saporito wins the damages he is asking for, and whether Elon Musk makes changes to how his organization operates.
“This is not right and it is a serious problem for me. All was clear between us," Craig, a former Skadden partner, said in one email exchange that prosecutors showed jurors Wednesday at trial in Washington.