Jeff Bezos' 'Toxic' Blue Origin Puts 'Competing with Other Billionaires' Over Safety: Employees

An essay signed by 21 former and current employees also claimed that while "workplace gender gaps are common in the space industry," Blue Origin is "rife with sexism"

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty

Over a dozen current and former employees at Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' aerospace company, have written an essay claiming the company is a "toxic" place to work.

Published online Thursday, the piece was signed by former head of employee communications Alexandra Abrams as well as 20 others who have chosen to remain anonymous.

The essay includes numerous complaints about safety concerns — which the employees claim worsened as Bezos' space race with fellow billionaires Elon Musk and Richard Branson heated up — as well as allegations of sexual harassment.

"Women at Blue Origin were absolutely treated differently than men," Abrams told CBS Mornings in an interview that aired Thursday morning. "Their ideas were not valued as much, they were not listened to."

The essay said that while "workplace gender gaps are common in the space industry," the aerospace company is "rife with sexism."

One "former executive frequently treated women in a condescending and demeaning manner, calling them 'baby girl,' 'baby doll,' or 'sweetheart,' " the essay claimed, alleging that "it took him physically groping a female subordinate for him to finally be let go."

"Additionally, a former NASA astronaut and Blue Origin senior leader once instructed a group of women with whom he was collaborating: 'You should ask my opinion because I am a man,' " the essay read.

In a statement to PEOPLE, a Blue Origin spokesperson tells PEOPLE that "Ms. Abrams was dismissed for cause two years ago after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations."

"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," the spokesperson adds.

"I never received any warnings, verbal or written, from management regarding issues involving federal export control regulations," Abrams said in a statement sent to The Washington Post.

The essay also cited "environmental concerns...largely left unaddressed," "dehumanizing" work conditions, as well as an effort to "actively" stifle employee dissent.

"At Blue Origin, a common question during high-level meetings was, 'When will Elon or 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 read.

"Some of us felt that with the resources and staff available, leadership's race to launch at such a breakneck speed was seriously compromising flight safety," the current and former employees wrote.

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Speaking with CBS Mornings on Thursday, Abrams said that working at Blue Origin "was smooth and steady and slow until Jeff started becoming impatient, and Elon and Branson were getting ahead. Then we started to feel this increasing pressure."

"Often times when I would try to reconcile what I was hearing from the engineers who were close to the vehicle vs. leadership about risk and safety; I would often go to leadership and say, 'Okay, how am I supposed to think about this?' And often the response would be, 'Well that person in particular doesn't have a high enough risk tolerance,' " she claimed.

Abrams, who said she was initially happy working at Blue Origin, said that ultimately it was her belief that she was "propagating the hypocrisy" that led her to start speaking up before her dismissal.

"I spend my days telling employees how we're saving humanity and the planet. And on the other end, having the wool pulled over my eyes about taking rights away from our employees," she told CBS Mornings.

The essay was published less than two weeks before Blue Origin's next scheduled launch on Oct. 12.

Earlier this month, PEOPLE reported that William Shatner is considering a real-life trip to space with Blue Origin. The 90-year-old actor — who previously played the iconic role of Captain Kirk on Star Trek — has been in talks to travel to space aboard a Blue Origin New Shepard rocket in October, "but it's not a done deal yet," a source said.

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