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October 07, 2022 09:56 AM UTC

O'Dea's Worker Safety Record: Pour The Concrete, Take The Ride

  • by: Colorado Pols
Joe O’Dea between two menacingly large wheels.

Even before Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea won the nomination in the June 28th primary, his campaign was under fire from labor groups who criticized the employee safety record of O’Dea’s company Concrete Express, Inc. Since O’Dea has no political experience, his record as the owner of CEI is most of what voters have to go on to evaluate O’Dea besides being all over the map on abortion and riding a horse through the Denver suburbs for strip-mall sushi.

The Denver Business Journal’s Ed Sealover published a feature-length story examining the occupational safety record of CEI along with age and gender discrimination allegations that have dogged the company for years, all denied by O’Dea with the same vigor that Herschel Walker denies paying for that abortion–but aren’t going away, either:

O’Dea has no record of legislative accomplishments or public votes on which he can run but instead is framing his campaign as that of someone who has for years been bettering the lives of working-class Coloradans.

That is why scrutiny is turning now to the Republican’s history as an employer and the differing views that skeptics and supporters hold about his company…

And here’s the bottom line:

Since its 1988 founding, Concrete Express has gotten hit with $135,000 in fines for 28 worker safety violations by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to information available on the OSHA website. It also was the target of a since-settled 2019 age and disability lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado to which O’Dea detractors have drawn attention.

…Dennis Dougherty — the executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO who has tracked the lawsuit and sanctions against O’Dea’s company and has been speaking publicly along with other labor leaders and the liberal activist group ProgressNow about them for months — said there is mounting opposition to the man who says he wants to be a defender of working Coloradans has not been their friend for 30-plus years.

“O’Dea is selling hardworking Coloradans a bill of goods, and he is presenting himself as something he’s not,” said Dougherty, whose organization has endorsed Bennet. “He is a corporate wolf in workers’ clothing.”

On the one hand, O’Dea’s supporters will argue that pouring concrete is an inherently dangerous business resulting in very tight supervision of working conditions by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). But that doesn’t mean safety violations count for less than they would in safer industries, or negligence responsible for violations and injuries isn’t as big of a problem. Contractor associations compensate for this in part by lavishing “workplace safety” awards on their paying members, but it doesn’t change the fact that workers have been hurt working for Joe O’Dea, and some of those injuries were preventable.

One solution for O’Dea if he really has nothing to hide would be to call opponents’ bluffs and agree to their demands that O’Dea release the injured parties in the lawsuits against CEI from the nondisclosure agreements that prevent them from speaking out about their experience. But the likelihood that these cases contain plenty of anecdotal ugliness, if not the systemic safety and discrimination problems O’Dea’s opponents allege, makes that very unlikely.

[Colorado Contractors Association Executive Director Tony] Milo said that OSHA fines are “unfortunately, a cost of doing business for most contractors” and that one would be hard-pressed to find a contractor that hasn’t been hit with penalties. OSHA never suspended operations of Concrete Express, as it has with other firms, he noted. [Pols emphasis]

Under scrutiny, the retreat from “check out all of Joe O’Dea’s safety awards” to “at least OSHA never shut Joe O’Dea down” is so quick it will make your head spin–and it’s a tell that O’Dea’s defenders are nervous about this line of attack. O’Dea regularly accuses his two-term incumbent opponent of having “no record to run on,” but that’s literally the case for O’Dea other than his years of getting rich pouring concrete.

In which some people got hurt.

From there, O’Dea faces questions about the origin of much of his estimated to be up to $77 million fortune–hundreds of millions of dollars in public contracts for roads, bridges, dams, and (Republicans hate this one especially) bike paths paid for with taxpayer dollars. Though not himself a public servant, O’Dea made his fortune in large part as a contractor on public sector construction projects. This is what O’Dea’s vanquished primary opponent Ron Hanks cited when he endorsed the Libertarian running against O’Dea, and the point was well illustrated this summer when O’Dea tried to take credit for the Windy Gap water project that Sen. Michael Bennet had won the appropriation to construct.

The polls say it’s not coming together for O’Dea in this race, who has settled into a ten-point deficit in numerous recent polls. But when the post-mortem begins on O’Dea’s anticipated defeat, inherent contradictions that his campaign chose to either ignore or feigned outrage at the mere suggestion of that will tell the story of why O’Dea lost.

Coloradans don’t need another “Boss.” And that’s not what they want in their U.S. Senator.


2 thoughts on “O’Dea’s Worker Safety Record: Pour The Concrete, Take The Ride

  1. Coloradans don’t need another “Boss.”

    Yup. The boss looks out for his profits first and everybody else second.

    That's not what we need in the Senate.

  2. I keep thinking someone is going to find a few other companies that compete with Concrete Express to see if O’Dea & co. is better or worse than the usual “cost of doing business.”

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