KENT, WA, November 9 – On September 30, twenty-one former and current workers at Jeff Bezos’ private commercial spaceflight company Blue Origin released a statement revealing repeated instances of sexual harassment from the highest levels of leadership. The ensuing response makes it clear which side that leadership is on and what the employees need to do to fight back.
Repeated Harassment by Senior Leadership
As the statement discloses, new female hires were warned to stay away from one executive in particular. This executive, despite repeated behavior like uninvited touching and use of phrases like “baby girl” and “baby doll” directed at women employees, continued to be put in charge of recruiting for Blue Origin. He was allowed to continue this behavior because of his close relationship with Jeff Bezos. His behavior escalated until he physically groped a female employee, at which point he was finally removed from the company.
In another instance, a different executive was reported to HR several times for sexual harassment. He faced no repercussions for his actions. Instead, the company’s CEO Bob Smith personally chose to place him in a hiring role as well. It is particularly disturbing that those who displayed this pattern of atrocious behavior were put into positions where they had a high level of control over the fate of prospective employees.
“Do More” or Do Nothing?
Following the publication of the statement, the company leadership immediately began trying to control the narrative. Several comments made by employees on a company-wide Slack channel in response to the revelations were deleted, and emails from the executives with wishy-washy promises to “reflect” and “do more” were sent out. Employees were told to voice their concerns to the very same members of leadership who had perpetrated or been involved in covering up the harassment. Middle managers worked to diffuse the agitation of the employees and downplay the incidents described. Those in the rank-and-file that tried to come forward and offer a helping hand to victims were required to direct people to the same HR department that had ignored the complaints in the first place.
Blue Origin, like many American aerospace companies, is not yet unionized. As a result, employees were powerless to engage in any actions coordinated and impactful enough to bring about the necessary changes. Upper management was able to dictate the response and brush aside these issues with no change to the status quo. Therefore, it should be of no surprise if there are further incidents at the company, many of which will surely go unreported. Ultimately, these incidents demonstrate that white collar workers need organizing and unions too, both at Blue Origin and elsewhere.