SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Picture: AFP/JIM WATSON
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Picture: AFP/JIM WATSON

Palo Alto/San Francisco — Labour 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 labour officials wrote to California’s employee training panel on Thursday to voice opposition to the $655,500 SpaceX 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 on Friday are labour leaders.

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 Labour Federation, and three other labour leaders wrote to the panel on 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 $36bn 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 sued a California county for resisting the carmaker’s efforts to reopen its only US automotive 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.

“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 on Wednesday. “Why should we be subsidising him on any level — SpaceX or Tesla?”

Gretchen Newsom, one of the labour officials on the panel considering SpaceX’s request, voiced similar concerns in an interview on 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?”


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