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Elon Musk accused of ‘starving’ highly paid staff after scrapping free meals said to cost over $400 each

Woe to the tech tycoon who thinks there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Twitter CEO Elon Musk has come under fire this week for ending his newly acquired company’s regime of free meals, with some critics going so far as to accuse him of starving his staff.

Feeding off controversy

Since completing his acquisition of Twitter on Oct. 27, Musk has sought to make the struggling company leaner, more cost-effective, and more efficient. In addition to slashing at least half of the company’s workforce and requiring media personalities to pay a monthly subscription fee for verification, the world’s richest man has clamped down on exorbitant meal costs.

The New York Times reported on Nov. 11 that Musk plans to make employees — who according to Zippia earn a starting salary of $106,000 — pay for their own lunches. Meals had previously been subsidized by the company.

In a now-deleted tweet, Andrew Wortman, a “Gay AF” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) supporter, wrote, “He fired 3/4 of the employees. Now he’s planning to starve the rest of them.”

Wortman added that the world’s richest man was “failure incarnate.”

Croatian poker presenter Tatjana Pašalić responded, asking, “is this a parody?”

Musk was similarly unsure, writing, “I can’t tell.”

Some commenters referenced Milton Friedman’s 1975 book, “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch,” when ridiculing the notion that Musk was starving highly paid employees by requiring them to sort out their own noontime dietary needs.

Journalist and novelist Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer pointed out that lunch isn’t “even free at the White House, Senate, State Department … you don’t even get a free lunch in a socialist country at work.”

McAteer suggested further that “if you need to keep your employees retention by offering them a free lunch then you have a problem with your company’s culture.”

Taking Wortman’s accusation on its face rather than as absurdist humor, Musk wrote, “Especially bizarre given that almost no one came to the office. Estimated cost per lunch served in past 12 months is >$400.”

u201c@nichegamer Especially bizarre given that almost no one came to the office. Estimated cost per lunch served in past 12 months is >$400.u201d

— Niche Gamer (@Niche Gamer)
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Former Twitter employee Tracy Hawkins claimed the >$400 estimate was “a lie.”

“I ran this program up until a week ago when I resigned because I didn’t want to work for @elonmusk,” wrote Hawkins. “For breakfast & lunch we spent $20-$25 a day per person. This enabled employees to work thru lunchtime & mtgs. Attendance was anything from 20-25% in the offices.”

u201cThis is a lie. I ran this program up until a week ago when I resigned because I didnu2019t want to work for @elonmusk For breakfast & lunch we spent $20-$25 a day per person. This enabled employees to work thru lunchtime & mtgs. Attendance was anything from 20-50% in the offices.u201d

— Tracy Hawkins uea00 (@Tracy Hawkins uea00)
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Hawkins, unemployed, did not specify whether the $20-$25 per-person estimate was a breakdown on the basis of the average number of employees who turned up, persons on payroll, or persons affiliated with the office.

If attendance was low, but food service costs (e.g., labor) remained at levels intended to accommodate far more people, then the average cost per head in terms of people using the services may well have been reflective of Musk’s estimate.

Musk suggested this to be the case in a follow-up tweet: “Twitter spends $13M/year on food service for SF HQ. Badge in records show peak occupancy was 25%, average occupancy below 10%. There are more people preparing breakfast than eating breakfast. They don’t even bother serving dinner, because there is no one in the building.”

u201c@_hawko False. Twitter spends $13M/year on food service for SF HQ. Badge in records show peak occupancy was 25%, average occupancy below 10%.nnThere are more people preparing breakfast than eating breakfast.nnThey donu2019t even bother serving dinner, because there is no one in the building.u201d

— Tracy Hawkins uea00 (@Tracy Hawkins uea00)
1668375840

Musk’s suggestion that very few were taking advantage of the $13 million per year service at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters is tied to another problem he seeks to resolve: A significant number of Twitter staff are averse to coming into the office.

On Thursday, Musk told employees that they would only be allowed to work remotely “on an exception basis for exceptional people.”

According to a transcript of the meeting obtained by the Verge, Musk said, “Let me be crystal clear. If people do not return to the office when they are able to return to the office, they cannot remain at the company. End of story.”

Musk added, “If you can show up in an office and you do not show up at the office, resignation accepted.”