Joe O’Dea’s business record in the spotlight in Colorado Senate race

U.S. Republican Senate candidate And construction company boss Joe O’Dea’s record as an employer is under scrutiny over dozens of worker safety and wage violations and a campaign of multiple lawsuits.

Why it matters: O’Dea — a first-time candidate with a limited political record — is leaning on his business background to contrast with the Democratic incumbent U.S. senator. Michael Bennet, who has held this position since his appointment in 2009.

  • The Republican claim is to “rebuild” Washington.

Push the news: O’Dea’s Denver-based Concrete Express Inc., which now has 300 employees, has been fined $135,000 by the federal OSHA for 28 worker safety violations since its founding in 1988, the Denver Business Journal reported.

  • The worst was a fine in 2008 for the 2007 collapse of part of the floor of a high-rise building in Greenwood Village, injuring 13 employees of the subcontractor. O’Dea’s company, which was fined $107,500, sued the subcontractor and reached an undisclosed settlement.
  • Other fines over the years have ranged from $561 to $10,000.

or a note: Since its founding in 1988, O’Dea’s company has also been prosecuted for 26 wage violations and 13 violations related to underpayment of workers.

What is he saying: “I think anyone who’s been in business understands it because they’ve been victims of it,” the Republican candidate said in response to a question about the breach.

  • “I have hundreds of employees who work here and retire here…I’m just going to stick to that record,” he added.

Between the lines: Concrete Express initially stayed true to its name, but expanded its scope to include bridges, site developments, and water and recreation projects.

  • O’Dea said 85 percent of the company’s projects are paid for by the government. Colorado Newsline estimates that Concrete Express has received $400 million from federal, state and local government contracts.
  • Prominent projects include the parking lot at Coors Field, the redevelopment of the Chatfield Dam reservoir, and a new project to reconnect the Colorado River around Windy Gap Dam—the latter made possible after Bennet helped secure funding.

or a note: O’Dea started construction after high school and dropped out of college a semester early to start Concrete Express. He started his career as a union contractor, but has since disbanded the union, saying it “lost a lot of usefulness”.

  • In turn, Dennis Dougherty, executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, which supports Bennet, calls O’Dea a “corporate wolf in a worker’s garb.”

Plot: Critics of O’Dea trying to draw attention to his leadership at Concrete Express are following two lawsuits against the company.

  • One involved a human resources manager who filed a lawsuit in 2019 after leaving the company, alleging age and disability discrimination. The case was settled under a nondisclosure agreement, with O’Dea arguing that the evidence disputed the claims.
  • Another involved a concrete express gravel truck driver who killed a Boulder cyclist in 2006 and overloaded it with defective brakes. The company settled and the two parties signed a non-disclosure agreement.

the other side: “He’s highly respected in Colorado,” state Contractors Association leader Tony Milo said of O’Dea, who previously led the group and served on its board. “I think anyone who tries to disparage him or his company is purely political.”

What’s next: ProgressNow, a liberal advocacy group, said it had identified more than 20 other parties injured by concrete couriers and called on O’Dea to release any restrictions on parties talking about the events.

  • When asked by Axios Denver, O’Dea’s campaign declined to respond to the request.

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