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

Republican US Senate candidate and construction company owner Joe O’Dea’s track record as an employer prompts scrutiny of the campaign for dozens of workplace safety and wage violations and multiple lawsuits.

Why it matters: O’Dea — a first-time candidate with a limited political record — is drawing on his business background to provide a contrast to incumbent Democratic US Senator Michael Bennet, who has served since his appointment in 2009.

  • The Republican’s bad luck is to “rebuild” Washington.

Driving the news: O’Dea’s Denver-based Concrete Express Inc., which now employs 300 people, has been fined $135,000 by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 28 occupational safety violations since its inception in 1988, reports the Denver Business Journal.

  • The most notable is a 2008 fine after part of a floor collapsed in a 2007 skyscraper in Greenwood Village, injuring 13 employees at a contractor. O’Dea’s company, which was fined $107,500, sued the subcontractor and entered into an undisclosed settlement.
  • Other fines have varied from $561 to $10,000 over the years.
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Remarkable: O’Dea’s company has also been charged with 26 wage violations and 13 violations related to underpaying workers since its inception in 1988.

What he says: “I think anyone who’s been involved in a deal understands because they’ve been a victim,” the Republican nominee responded to questions about the violations.

  • “I have literally hundreds of employees who have worked here and retired here… I’m just going to stand by that record,” he added.

Between the lines: Concrete Express initially stuck to its name but expanded its scope to bridge work, site development, and water and recreation projects.

  • O’Dea said 85% of the company’s projects are funded by governments. And Colorado Newsline estimates that Concrete Express received $400 million from contracts with federal, state, and local government agencies.
  • Standout projects include the Coors Field parking lots, the rebuilding of Chatfield Dam and a new project to reconnect the Colorado River around Windy Gap Dam — the latter is possible after Bennet helped secure funding.
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Remarkable: O’Dea began construction after high school and dropped out of college a semester early to start Concrete Express. He began his career as a union contractor but has since fired unions, saying they “outlived much of their usefulness”.

  • For his part, Dennis Dougherty, chief executive of the Colorado AFL-CIO, which supports Bennet, called O’Dea “a corporate wolf in working class clothes.”

The Intrigue: O’Dea’s critics, trying to draw attention to his leadership at Concrete Express, spotlight two lawsuits against the company.

  • One concerned a human resource manager who filed a lawsuit alleging age and disability discrimination in 2019 after he left the company. The case was settled with a non-disclosure agreement and O’Dea claims the evidence disputes the claims.
  • Another involved a Concrete Express gravel truck driver who killed a bouldering cyclist in 2006 and was subpoenaed for overloading with defective brakes. The company came to an agreement and the parties signed a non-disclosure agreement.
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The other side: “He’s well respected in Colorado,” said Tony Milo, chairman of the State Contractors Association, of O’Dea, who once ran the organization and is on its board. “I think anyone trying to disparage him or his company is acting purely politically.”

What’s next: ProgressNow, a liberal advocacy organization, says it has identified more than 20 other parties hurt by Concrete Express and is urging O’Dea to free the parties of any restrictions on speaking out about the incidents.

  • O’Dea’s campaign declined to respond to Axios Denver’s request.


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