Bim Ali was early in her first pregnancy when billionaire Elon Musk agreed to buy Twitter, where she worked as an engineer on the Redbird core technologies team. During the months of intense uncertainty that followed, Ali stuck with the company, attempting to tune out the deluge of news about the on-again, off-again deal to focus on her health and the health of her child.
“I was really happy, I loved my team, I loved contributing,” Ali said. “I was also pregnant, so [leaving] didn’t even make sense on any level” because that maternity leave might not be guaranteed as a new hire at a different company, she said.
But in November, shortly after Musk completed his acquisition and weeks before she was set to start her five-month maternity leave, Ali was laid off as part of the first round of mass job cuts under the new owner.
January 4 marked Ali’s official separation date from Twitter, leaving her without health insurance, which her job had provided for her family. Her baby was born a week after. Two months later, she has yet to begin looking for a new job, as she is instead spending time with her newborn.
“But I’m not being financially supported like I had planned,” she said. “We have to make some way of staying afloat.”
Ali is one of thousands of current and former Twitter employees whose lives have been upended since Musk began buying up shares of the social media company early last year. Twitter employees endured a corporate circus unlike any other, complete with Musk’s threats to bail on the deal, his public clashes with Twitter executives, the potential for a high-profile trial between Twitter and the Tesla CEO, and finally the deal’s completion immediately followed by rumors of imminent mass layoffs.
After buying Twitter, Musk cut more than half of its staff then proceeded to lay off and push out even more employees while repeatedly warning that Twitter could go bankrupt. Twitter now reportedly has fewer than 2,000 employees following more cuts late last month, down from around 7,500 before Musk took over.
Former workers who spoke with CNN said the past year has felt like whiplash: they went from working for a company whose culture they loved with a corporate mission they believed in, to hunting for a new job and worrying about the platform’s future under Musk’s leadership as he restored incendiary accounts and alienated advertisers. One former employee told CNN following December layoffs that they felt like they were grieving what had been their “dream job.”
Many workers are now reeling from more generous severance packages they claim they were promised but never materialized. While some have quickly found jobs, others have struggled with a tech job market that’s at its bleakest point in recent memory. And, in some cases, workers are balancing the uncertainty of unemployment with disability or illness, as well as pregnancies, parental leave or other family obligations, according to former employees who have spoken to CNN and legal claims filed against the company.
“I wasn’t a software engineer or an executive,” said Michele Armstrong, a former senior audio video engineer, who was laid off seven months after joining the company. “I made a decent wage in San Francisco, but if I don’t find another job, I will have to move out of my apartment because I was paid just enough to live in San Francisco … but I wasn’t one of the people that could sock away a bunch of money.”
Armstrong says she’s now searching for work in the challenging tech job market and dipping into her retirement savings to help pay her rent.
Armstrong and Ali are among the more than 1,500 former employees who have now taken legal action. Ex-Twitter employees have filed arbitration demands and four class action lawsuits against Twitter in pursuit of additional severance they allege they were promised by the company prior to Musk’s takeover. Some former workers have also alleged sex and disability discrimination and other issues, which the company has argued in court are without merit.
“One person can impact our way of living, and unfortunately, we’re seeing the negative impacts of that from how Twitter is being run,” Ali said.
Twitter has moved to dismiss the four class action lawsuits, saying its layoffs were lawful and that employees should pursue their claims in arbitration. A judge ruled last month in the company’s favor that at least some workers could not pursue their claims through a class action suit and must instead proceed through arbitration.
Twitter has not commented publicly on the arbitration demands, but Shannon Liss-Riordan, the lawyer representing hundreds of former Twitter employees, last month made a court filing accusing the company of failing to cooperate with the arbitration process. Twitter, which laid off much of its media relations team last year, did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Armstrong was in onboarding sessions for a new job at Twitter, which she called her “unicorn company,” the day news broke that Musk had agreed to buy the company. “It was very welcoming,” Armstrong said of the company. “I was respected, and I hadn’t had that anywhere else working in tech.”
But in the months after Musk’s April offer to buy Twitter, employees witnessed near-daily news coverage of their employer and a wide range of questions about the takeover, from uncertainty over the billionaire’s financing to concerns about his “free speech” vision for the platform.
“We were on the Twitter-coaster, the Elon Musk chapter, for seven months,” Ali said. “And during that time, he was in, he was out, it was happening, it wasn’t happening, we could’ve been purchased by some other rogue faction, there were so many rumors, so many opinions.”
Of the many rumors that swirled about Musk’s plans for Twitter, former employees say the biggest question internally was whether Musk would conduct layoffs following his takeover.
But former employees say they got some reassurance after a June meeting in which Musk responded to a question about layoffs by telling Twitter workers that “anyone who’s obviously a significant contributor should have nothing to worry about.”
“I thought, well then, I don’t have anything to worry about because I’m a significant contributor,” Armstrong said, who added that she had previously considered starting to look for another job but “then he said that and it kind of changed my mind.”
Like Ali, some employees said that even if they’d wanted to leave, it simply didn’t feel like an option for personal reasons. Other workers were open to the idea of working for Musk, one of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs, despite his reputation as a controversial figure on Twitter and the uncertainty around his plans for the platform.
“Twitter has definitely never been a perfect company … and so I kind of welcome that not necessarily contrarian, but definitely different, approach,” said Justine de Caires, a former senior software engineer who was the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed against Twitter shortly after the November mass layoffs and who is now pursuing arbitration claims against the company. “I think we definitely could have had something to learn from Elon.”
Instead, Twitter employees say they heard very little from their new leader in the days immediately after his takeover. De Caires spent the first week under Musk working on Twitter Blue, the subscription service that Musk wanted revamped as part of his urgent effort to bolster revenue. At one point, de Caires said they pulled an all-nighter to help with the effort. Armstrong said she was called in to the office at 8 p.m. one night that first week to help set up audio-video equipment in a conference room in an office building that the company had been in the process of shutting down because the new leadership wanted to have meetings there.
A week after his takeover, Musk laid off around half of Twitter’s staff by email, leaving employees without work — and at least some confused about whether they could seek out new jobs without risking their severance pay — just before the holidays. In the following weeks, Musk continued to push out additional employees, including by asking remaining workers to commit to working “extremely hardcore” or resign.
Musk had denied reports from prior to his takeover that he planned to cut 75% of jobs at Twitter in order to reduce costs, but he has effectively ended up doing something close to that with various rounds of staff reductions over the past four months.
In lawsuits and arbitration claims, numerous former Twitter employees have alleged that the company had promised if layoffs did occur following Musk’s takeover, the severance benefits provided would be at least equivalent to what had been offered prior to his acquisition, including two-months base pay, three months accelerated equity vesting, annual bonuses and some continued health insurance coverage.
Instead, Musk’s Twitter offered laid off employees just one month’s severance following layoffs, beyond pay during the notice period that’s required by state and federal laws. That’s far less than rival companies like Meta, which laid off thousands of workers around the same time as the first cuts under Musk and guaranteed them 16 weeks of base pay plus two additional weeks for each year they worked at the company. And for at least some former employees, the severance offer landed in their email spam folder, according to public tweets and former employees who spoke with CNN.
“I had lots of Twitter employees reaching out to me and saying they relied on” the company’s earlier severance promise, Liss-Riordan told CNN. “They were nervous during all that uncertain time last year when it wasn’t clear what was going to happen with the company, and leadership at Twitter didn’t want to lose their workforce in the meantime, so to keep people there, they made these promises.”
Some former employees say the company’s severance promises had encouraged them to stay at the company last summer amid the uncertainty around Musk’s acquisition, only to regret that as the tech industry entered its most severe downturn in recent memory later in the year.
“It would have been really good to have spent the time in the substantially better tech market while it still existed,” de Caires said. “The market is hot garbage right now. I was sitting down earlier this week after a wave of rejections and I was kind of like, maybe I should go be a firefighter or something… because the tech jobs are just not happening.”
De Caires said that about half of their compensation had been comprised of equity vesting, so losing that portion of the severance package meant missing out on a large chunk of additional money. They and other workers are now hoping to recoup those alleged losses through their arbitration claims.
“A lot of us put in a lot of effort because we love the company and we love to excel,” Ali told CNN. “I think there were a lot of excellent workers at Twitter … we were part of a global movement to tell everyone what’s happening, how it’s affecting you locally, how it’s affecting you nationwide, how it’s affecting you globally. And I think that we all should be compensated fairly for what we’ve done.”