Billionaire Elon Musk’s $44 billion takeover of Twitter has been tumultuous, to say the least. The chaotic rollout of a Twitter Blue feature that enabled users to impersonate corporations and public figures, a stampede of advertisers leaving the platform, thousands of Twitter employees around the world suddenly laid off, and a barrage of haphazard changes to Twitter’s services have all left users bewildered and frustrated. The consequences of Musk’s chaotic business dealings and workplace abuses are hard to enumerate, but with a wide variety of groups bringing lawsuits against the tech billionaire, the chickens may be coming home to roost.
Musk has deflected criticisms of his takeover of Twitter, opting instead to cozy up to the far right, from supporting their complaints about “wokeness” and “radical leftists” to sending troublesome winks and nods to alt-right conspiracy groups like QAnon. And the spillover effects are, well, spilling over: Musk’s erratic actions have spooked shareholders at Tesla, which has seen stock shares plunge ever since he took over Twitter as owner and CEO.
Among his most concerning actions has been the series of mass layoffs Musk has conducted since taking over Twitter, which have prompted numerous lawsuits and legal actions from former employees. Right before the holidays, Twitter laid off the janitors who cleaned the corporate offices through a contracted company, leaving 48 janitors without income and health insurance.
“I can only tell you that I won’t have any healthcare. I won’t have money to pay the rent,” said Julio Alvarado, who worked as a janitor cleaning Twitter headquarters for a decade before being laid off in early December 2022. “We don’t know what we are going to do. These tech companies have everything. They need to do the right thing and put the people who keep them safe back on the job.”
The workers were laid off without any severance pay and San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu is currently investigating the layoffs, as city law demands companies retain workers for at least 90 days when switching contractors.
“Overnight, we don’t have anything. How am I going to eat? How am I going to take care of my family?” said Adrianna Villarreal, who worked as a janitor cleaning Twitter headquarters for 5 years before losing her job. “This is what happens when these billionaire companies don’t respect union work. It’s terrible.”
After initially cutting Twitter’s staff of 7,500 employees down to about 2,700 workers, Musk claimed in November 2022 that he was done with layoffs and looking to hire new workers. However, the layoffs continued, and Musk proceeded to fire half of Twitter’s policy team in December 2022.
The layoffs have prompted a flood of lawsuits from former employees and at least one investigation into the company by state agencies. Twitter is currently being sued by former women employees who allege in a class action lawsuit that the layoffs disproportionately targeted women, with the complaint citing numerous sexist comments Elon Musk made on Twitter as well as previous reporting on Musk’s alleged misogynistic treatment of women employees. Other former Twitter employees have filed a lawsuit over Twitter laying off workers en masse without proper notice, as state and federal laws require at least a notice of 60 days ahead of mass layoffs at large employers.
Former employees have also filed a lawsuit against Twitter for not fulfilling promises of maintaining consistency with regard to providing severance and work-from-home options, and a judge ordered Twitter provide notice to all laid-off employees about the pending lawsuit. Another laid-off Twitter employee, John Barnett, is suing Twitter over claims the company canceled some of his stock options upon his termination. Twitter is also under investigation for violating city codes after the company installed beds in its offices; the investigation began shortly after an email by Elon Musk to Twitter staff went public, in which he encouraged workers to embrace ‘hardcore’ long schedules or leave the company.
Elon Musk has a long record of violating labor laws, treating workers as disposable, and abuse and harassment toward employees at his companies. At Tesla’s Fremont, California production plant, Richard Ortiz, an employee who was working to organize a union with the United Auto Workers at the plant, was fired in October 2017. Ortiz’s firing broke the union campaign—workers wearing pro-union shirts reportedly disappeared virtually overnight after Ortiz was targeted. In 2021, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Ortiz’s firing was unlawful and ordered that he be reinstated with back pay, and that Elon Musk delete a Tweet in which he threatened workers with the loss of stock options if they unionized. Tesla has been accused of firing other pro-union workers at the Fremont, California, plant and the company’s battery plant in Buffalo, New York, as well.
Former Tesla workers have also claimed they were fired for using maternity and sick leave. One Tesla worker won a $15 million settlement after they experienced rampant racial discrimination while working at Tesla as a contractor in 2017, and the worker rejected the settlement offer in order to bring the case again before a jury. A class action lawsuit was filed by 15 former Tesla employees in June 2022 alleging they were subjected to constant racial discrimination and harassment on the job. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is also suing Tesla over allegations the company fostered a work environment where rampant racism was permitted to occur unchecked for years.
Multiple former Tesla employees have also filed sexual harassment lawsuits against the company, alleging a culture of sexual harassment at Tesla and HR doing nothing in response to complaints of misconduct.
Earlier in 2022, former Tesla employees filed a lawsuit against the company alleging 500 layoffs were conducted in violation of the WARN Act, alleging that a proper minimum advance notice of the impending layoffs (60 days ahead of time) was not provided to workers. At Tesla, Elon Musk also threatened to suspend unemployment benefits if workers didn’t return to work at the plant during the COVID-19 pandemic, in defiance of local COVID-19 protocols. Following the plant’s premature reopening, hundreds of COVID-19 cases were reported at the plant.
At Elon Musk’s SolarCity company, moreover, which was bought by Tesla in 2016, former employees alleged that they were fired after reporting millions in fake sales that resulted in a ballooned valuation of the company. Hundreds of SolarCity employees were laid off in the wake of the acquisition, with workers saying that they were blindsided by the layoffs, and that the performance reviews cited by Tesla to justify the layoffs never actually occurred.
In May 2022, Business Insider reported that Elon Musk allegedly paid a SpaceX flight attendant a $250,000 settlement after he exposed himself and propositioned her for sex during a massage. Several former SpaceX employees filed NLRB complaints against the company after they claimed they were fired in retaliation for criticizing Elon Musk over the sexual misconduct allegations. A former SpaceX engineer also published an essay in December 2021 outlining a culture of harassment and sexism at the company.
Musk has responded erratically to these allegations and to criticisms of his public antics, seemingly throwing tantrums that involve suspending journalists on Twitter and making ridiculous claims and false promises that, in Trumpian fashion, become media “events” unto themselves. He has spent years benefitting and propagating a mythical version of himself to the public as a sort of technological savior, though reality repeatedly dispels these notions much to the chagrin of his ardent fanbase. It remains unclear if Twitter will survive his reign or what that will look like, but the cracks in the facade of Elon Musk’s wannabe persona of a real-life Tony Stark are slipping further away as he burrows further into the embracing arms of his sycophantic, far-right fanbase, and his irascible, even abusive behaviors—toward his employees and the public—are put on full display.