Twenty-one current and former employees at Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, published an open letter on Thursday, saying they suffered from “dehumanizing” treatment that left some staffers with suicidal thoughts—all while the firm allegedly sacrificed safety measures in favor of speed.
“When Jeff Bezos flew to space this July, we did not share his elation. Instead, many of us watched with an overwhelming sense of unease. Some of us couldn’t bear to watch at all,” the workers said.
Alexandra Abrams, Blue Origin’s former head of employee communications, was the only named signatory on the letter, which outlines a wide range of grievances. She was fired from Blue Origin in 2019 and now works at Oracle. Others opted to remain anonymous, telling Fortune that they had signed non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreements and feared retaliation. In the letter, they said that they were “terrified of the potential consequences for speaking out against the wealthiest man on the planet.”
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Blue Origin highlighted Abrams’ firing, writing that she was “dismissed for cause two years ago after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations.”
The spokesperson added that “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.”
According to the letter, many of Blue Origin’s senior leaders have been “consistently inappropriate with women.” One senior executive was allegedly reported to human resources multiples times for sexual harassment; he nonetheless was part of a hiring committee that filled a vacancy in the department in 2019.
Another executive called women “baby girl” and “sweetheart” and asked probing questions about their personal lives, while a former astronaut turned Blue Origin exec allegedly once told a group of women, “You should ask my opinion because I am a man.” The letter did not disclose the man’s identity.
The workers allege that 100 percent of the “senior technical and program leaders” at the company are men.
The firm’s alleged toxicity created psychological problems for workers, they said. Some described periods of suicidal thinking, while another veteran worker called her tenure at Blue Origin the worst experience of her life.
In the second half of the essay, the staffers pivoted to other concerns about the company’s operations, claiming that it has been lackadaisical about its environmental impact and that at times it recklessly prioritized speed in the name of stoking Bezos’ ego.
“Competing with other billionaires—and ‘making progress for Jeff’—seemed to take precedence over safety concerns that would have slowed down the schedule,” they wrote.
One engineering signatory said that “Blue Origin has been lucky that nothing has happened so far,” while multiple others said they would not fly on one of its rockets. (The company has successfully completed 17 straight missions.)
The workers said that in 2019, Blue Origin began requesting that employees sign new contracts with firm non-disparagement clauses, which discouraged people from speaking out negatively. Some of those contracts allegedly stipulated that workers would be on the hook for the company’s legal fees if Blue Origin sued them for breach of contract.
“I spent my days telling employees how we’re saving humanity and the planet. And on the other end am having the wool pulled over my eyes about taking rights away from our employees,” Abrams said of the clauses, in an interview with CBS News.
The letter ended with a question seemingly targeted at the ongoing billionaire space race: “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?”
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.