Jeff Bezos announces Blue Moon, a lunar lander for the moon, during a Blue Origin event in Washington, DC, May 9, 2019.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
According to an article published Thursday, 21 current and former employees of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin claim the space company is a “toxic” place to work.
Led by former Blue Origin Head of Employee Communications Alexandra Abrams, the essay claims the company is pushing workers to sign strict nondisclosure agreements, stifling internal feedback, disregarding safety concerns, and creating a sexist environment for women. There were also examples of alleged sexual harassment.
“I’m far enough from that that I’m not afraid to silence myself about them,” Abrams said in a CBS interview that aired Thursday.
The essay was posted on the Lioness website on Thursday. It was signed by Abrams and said it was endorsed by 20 other current and former employees whose names were not listed.
In response to CNBC’s request for comment, Linda Mills, Blue Origin’s vice president of communications, said Abrams was “dismissed for cause” in 2019 “after repeated warnings about issues related to federal export control regulations.”
In response to Blue Origin, Abrams said in a statement to CNBC that it has “never received any verbal or written warnings from management regarding issues related to federal export control regulations.”
Abrams admitted in the CBS interview that she was fired from Blue Origin. She told CBS Mornings that she was “shocked” when she was fired, but her manager said, “Bob and I can no longer trust you,” referring to CEO Bob Smith. According to her LinkedIn account, she now works in employee communications for a large software company.
Alleged sexism and harassment
The essay stated that “gender gaps are common among the aerospace workforce,” but claimed that “they are also manifested in a certain type of sexism at Blue Origin”.
There were two examples from the management level. It was alleged that a “senior executive in the loyal inner circle of CEO Bob Smith” has been repeatedly reported to the company’s human resources department on allegations of sexual harassment. Despite the allegations, the essay states that Smith made the executive a member of Blue Origin’s recruitment committee when the company was in a senior human resources role.
In the second example, a former executive is said to have humiliated women, “called them ‘Baby Girl’, ‘Baby Doll’ or ‘Sweetheart’ and asked about their dating life.” The essay claims that Blue Origin would warn new female employees not to stay away from the executive who allegedly had a “close personal relationship with Bezos.”
“He physically groped a female subordinate so that he could finally be released,” claims the essay.
Mills said in her statement that “Blue Origin has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind”.
“We are offering a variety of options to our employees, including a 24/7 anonymous hotline, and will promptly investigate any new allegations of misconduct,” added Mills.
Blue Origin is headquartered in Kent, Washington.
Blue Origin has also stepped up its use of strict nondisclosure agreements, the article said, and in 2019 urged all employees to sign new contracts with a non-degradation clause, both current and former employees asserted. The letter quoted a senior program director with decades in the aerospace and defense industries who claimed that “working at Blue Origin was the worst experience of my life.”
FAA is investigating security allegations
Safety concerns are another important part of the essay, which claims that “some of the engineers who keep the missiles safe” have either been ousted or paid off after internal criticism.
The paper said that last year Blue Origin’s leadership showed “increasing impatience” with the low airspeed of its suborbital New Shepard rocket, and said the company’s team had to go from “a few flights a year … to more.” than 40 “jump.
“When Jeff Bezos went into space this July, we didn’t share his enthusiasm. Instead, many of us watched with overwhelming discomfort. Some of us couldn’t stand it at all, ”the essay says. “Competing with fellow billionaires – and ‘making progress for Jeff’ – seemed to take precedence over security concerns that would have slowed the schedule.”
The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement to CNBC Thursday that it is reviewing the safety concerns expressed in the essay.
“The FAA takes every security allegation seriously,” the regulator said in a statement.
The paper claims that environmental concerns were a minor concern at the company, with implications for local ecology and required permits after “the machines showed up” at Blue Origin’s Kent, Washington, facility.
Additionally, Blue Origin’s Kent headquarters – which opened last year – is not a LEED certified building, according to the essay, and claims that it was “built on wetlands drained for construction”.
Blue Origin’s Mills’ statement to CNBC did not address these other issues.
Become a smarter investor with CNBC Pro.
Get stock picks, analyst calls, exclusive interviews and access to CNBC TV.
Sign in to start one Try it for free today.