Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin: Test Says “Toxic” Workplace
Jeff Bezos announces Blue Moon, a lunar landing vehicle for the Moon, at a Blue Origin event in Washington, DC on May 9, 2019.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
Twenty-one current and former Blue Origin employees of Jeff Bezos say the space company is a “toxic” workplace, according to an essay released Thursday.
Led by Alexandra Abrams, former employee communications manager at Blue Origin, the test claims that the The company pushes workers to sign strict nondisclosure agreements, stifles internal commentary, ignores safety concerns, and creates a sexist environment for women. He also gave examples of alleged sexual harassment.
“I got far enough away from it that I wasn’t afraid enough of letting them shut me up,” Abrams said in a CBS interview that aired Thursday.
The essay was published Thursday on the Lioness website. It was signed by Abrams and said it was approved by 20 other current and former employees whose names were not listed.
Responding to CNBC’s request for comment, Blue Origin’s vice president of communications, Linda Mills, said Abrams was “terminated for cause” in 2019 “after repeated warnings over issues related to the Federal Export Control Regulations “.
In response to Blue Origin, Abrams told CNBC in a statement that she “had never received any warning, verbal or written, from management regarding issues involving federal export control regulations.”
Abrams admitted in the CBS interview that she was fired by Blue Origin. She told “CBS Mornings” that she was “shocked” when she was fired, but her manager told her that “Bob and I can’t trust you anymore”, referring to CEO Bob Smith. According to her LinkedIn account, she now works in employee communications for a large software company.
Suspected sexism and harassment
The essay said that “gender gaps in the workforce are common in the space industry” but claimed that “at Blue Origin they also manifest themselves in a particular brand of sexism.”
He gave two examples of senior management. He alleged that a “senior executive in CEO Bob Smith’s loyal inner circle” had been repeatedly reported to the company’s human resources team about complaints of sexual harassment. Despite the claims, according to the essay, Smith appointed the executive as a member of Blue Origin’s search committee when the company held a senior HR role.
In the second example, a former executive would have been demeaning to women, “calling them ‘little girl’, ‘baby doll’ or ‘sweetheart’ and inquiring about their love life.” The essay claims Blue Origin would warn new hires to stay away from the executive, who reportedly had a “close personal relationship with Bezos.”
“He had to physically grope a subordinate so that he was finally released”, alleges the test.
Mills, in his statement, said “Blue Origin has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind.”
“We have many opportunities for employees, including an anonymous 24/7 hotline, and we will promptly investigate any new malpractice complaints,” added Mills.
Blue Origin Headquarters in Kent, Washington.
Blue Origin has also stepped up the use of strict confidentiality agreements, according to the trial, pushing all employees to sign new contracts with a no-disparagement clause in 2019, current and former employees have called for. The letter quoted a senior program manager with decades in the aerospace and defense industry who said “working at Blue Origin was the worst experience of his life.”
Safety concerns are another key part of the trial, which alleges that “some of the engineers who keep rockets safe” were either forced to leave or paid after voicing criticism internally.
The test says that last year, Blue Origin management showed “growing impatience” with the low theft rate of its New Shepard suborbital rocket, saying the company’s team had to go from “a few flights by year … over 40 “.
“When Jeff Bezos flew into space in July, we didn’t share his joy. Instead, many of us watched with an overwhelming sense of unease. Some of us couldn’t can’t bear to watch at all, ”the essay said. “Competing with other billionaires – and ‘making progress for Jeff’ – seemed to take precedence over security concerns that would have slowed the timeline.”
The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement to CNBC Thursday that it is reviewing the safety concerns raised in the test.
“The FAA takes every safety claim seriously,” the regulator said in a statement.
The trial argues that environmental concerns were an afterthought at the company, with impacts on local ecology and required permits taken into account after “the machines showed up” at Blue Origin’s plant in Kent, Washington.
Additionally, Blue Origin’s Kent headquarters – which opened last year – is not a LEED-certified building, according to the test, claiming it “was built on areas that have been drained for construction ”.
Blue Origin’s Mills statement to CNBC did not address these other issues.
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