Musk’s SpaceX faces union opposition to California job funding

Josh Eidelson and Dana Hull

Labor leaders are calling for a California panel to reject a state funding request from Elon Musk’s SpaceX after the billionaire defied a San Francisco Bay area health order.

The state’s main union federation and other labor officials wrote to California’s Employee Training Panel on Thursday to voice opposition to the $655,500 that Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is seeking to train existing workers and hire new ones. Their resistance could be pivotal, since half the eight panel members ruling on the request Friday are labor leaders.

In this March 9, 2020, file photo, Tesla and SpaceX Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk speaks at the SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition in Washington.

Musk “has a proven track record of enriching himself and his companies instead of being a good corporate partner,” Art Pulaski, the head of the California Labor Federation, and three other labor leaders wrote to the panel Thursday.

Representatives for SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The closely held company reportedly raised money earlier this year at a roughly $36 billion valuation, so the state funding isn’t pivotal to its future. But if SpaceX’s proposal is denied, it will be an early indication of blowback following a week in which Tesla Inc. sued a California county for resisting the carmaker’s efforts to reopen its only U.S. auto plant. Musk also threatened to move operations elsewhere before tweeting that Tesla would flout local authorities and restart production.

Musk’s hardball tactics seem to have worked. Officials from Alameda County, where Tesla has its factory, issued statements this week calling talks with the company productive and saying that it could ramp up activity ahead of a possible reopening as soon as next week.

This illustration made available by NASA in April 2020 depicts Artemis astronauts on the Moon. On Thursday, April 30, 2020, NASA announced the three companies that will develop, build and fly lunar landers, with the goal of returning astronauts to the moon by 2024. The companies are SpaceX, led by Elon Musk; Blue Origin, founded by Amazon's Jeff Bezos; and Dynetics, a Huntsville, Ala., subsidiary of Leidos.

“He defies them at every turn and he gets his way again,” Rome Aloise, president of the Teamsters union’s council covering northern California, said in an interview Wednesday. “Why should we be subsidizing him on any level – SpaceX or Tesla?”

Gretchen Newsom, one of the labor officials on the panel considering SpaceX’s request, voiced similar concerns in an interview Wednesday. “When you have somebody in a position of power that is heading up multiple companies and is threatening to leave the state with one company,” she said, “what’s to prevent him from making that same threat for the next company?”