Twenty-one former and current Blue Origin employees are said to have penned that passage in an essay published on the storytelling platform Lioness on Thursday charging Jeff Bezos’s space-flight company with enabling a toxic work culture.
Alexandra Abrams, the former head of Blue Origin employee communications, and 20 other Blue Origin employees and former employees on the New Shepard, New Glenn, Blue Engines, Advanced Development Programs, Test & Flight Operations, and human-resources teams were said to have written the essay. Abrams is the only named author.
The essay — titled “Bezos Wants to Create a Better Future in Space. His Company Blue Origin is Stuck in a Toxic Past.” — details how the company has allegedly mistreated female employees, silenced people who voice safety concerns and not committed itself to its publicly stated mission of benefiting the planet.
In response to the essay, Blue Origin told MarketWatch that Abrams was “dismissed for cause two years ago after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations.”
Abrams told CBS News that she never received any warning regarding issues of that nature.
“Blue Origin has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind. We provide numerous avenues for employees, including a 24/7 anonymous hotline, and will promptly investigate any new claims of misconduct. We stand by our safety record and believe that New Shepard is the safest space vehicle ever designed or built,” a spokesperson told MarketWatch via email.
Several executives, the employee group claims, were known harassers. The essay alleges that one former executive consistently called women demeaning names, including “baby girl,” “baby doll” or “sweetheart,” and inquired about their dating lives. “It appeared to many of us that he was protected by his close personal relationship with Bezos — it took him physically groping a female subordinate for him to finally be let go,” reads a passage in the essay.
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Women who raised concerns related to the Blue Origin launch vehicle New Shephard were consistently shut down, the essay alleges.
“What are the blind spots of an organization whose stated mission is to enable humanity’s better future, yet is rife with sexism? Blue Origin’s flaws extend further, unfortunately,” the essay claims.
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The essay sates that, even as the company’s stated mission is to “benefit Earth,” Blue Origin has never made environmental concerns a priority.
“For years employees have raised environmental concerns at company town halls, but these have been largely left unaddressed,” the group writes in the essay. “We did not see sustainability, climate change or climate justice influencing Blue Origin’s decision-making process or company culture.”
A company culture emphasizing getting more out of its employees, where “burnout was part of [the] labor strategy,” led to mental-health issues for many employees, according to the essay.
“Former and current employees have had experiences they could only describe as dehumanizing, and are terrified of the potential consequences for speaking out against the wealthiest man on the planet,” the essay reads. “Others have experienced periods of suicidal thoughts after having their passion for space manipulated in such a toxic environment.”
The essay claims that safety took a back seat to keeping operations on schedule — and to beating Bezos’s fellow billionaires in the race to space.
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“At Blue Origin, a common question during high-level meetings was, ‘When will Elon [Musk] or [Richard] Branson fly?’ Competing with other billionaires — and ‘making progress for Jeff’ — seemed to take precedence over safety concerns that would have slowed down the schedule,” the essay reads. “Employees are often told to ‘be careful with Jeff’s money,’ to ‘not ask for more,’ and to ‘be grateful.’ “
Recent reporting by the Verge reveals that Blue Origin “gambled” in its lunar lander proposal last year. The company hoped NASA would negotiate the $5.9 billion price tag for its Blue Moon lander, but the space agency went with Musk’s SpaceX instead. Blue Origin subsequently sued NASA after it awarded a $2.89 billion contract to SpaceX to land the next Americans on the moon.
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What’s more, the essay alleges, professional dissent at Blue Origin is actively stifled, leading to ignored safety concerns. The essay’s authors contend that the “race to launch at such a breakneck speed was seriously compromising flight safety.”
“In the opinion of an engineer who has signed on to this essay, ‘Blue Origin has been lucky that nothing has happened so far.’ Many of this essay’s authors say they would not fly on a Blue Origin vehicle. And no wonder — we have all seen how often teams are stretched beyond reasonable limits,” they write.
The authors worry that stretching staff thin, ignoring safety concerns in order to keep to a schedule and stifling dissent could lead to history repeating itself, noting that an investigation of the fatal 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion pointed to similar reasons for the disaster.
The essay concludes by calling for Bezos and other leaders within the company to be held accountable and to learn “how to run a respectful, responsible company before they can be permitted to arbitrarily use their wealth and resulting power to create a blueprint for humanity’s future.”
“But beyond that,” it continues, “all of us should collectively, urgently, be raising this question: Should we as a society allow ego-driven individuals with endless caches of money and very little accountability to be the ones to shape that future?”
Bezos’s other company, Amazon
has also faced accusations of fostering poor working conditions and a toxic work environment. Some warehouse employees reportedly urinated in bottles as they did not have time to use the restroom and have fainted in the past apparently due to warehouse temperatures.
Amazon disputed those allegations.
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