Updated Oct 11, 2022 - Politics

Senate candidate Joe O'Dea's business record in the spotlight

Joe O'Dea

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O'Dea. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and construction company owner Joe O'Dea's record as an employer is drawing scrutiny to the campaign trail for dozens of worker safety and wage violations and multiple lawsuits.

Why it matters: O'Dea — a first-time candidate with a limited political record — is leaning on his business background to draw contrast to Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who has served since his 2009 appointment.

  • The Republican's pitch is to "rebuild" Washington.

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

  • The most significant is a fine from 2008, after part of a floor collapsed at a Greenwood Village high-rise in 2007, injuring 13 employees of a subcontractor. O'Dea's company, which was fined $107,500, sued the subcontractor and entered into an undisclosed settlement.
  • Other fines over the years varied from $561 to $10,000.

Of note: O'Dea's company also was cited for 26 wage violations and 13 violations related to inadequate payment of workers since its founding in 1988.

What he's saying: "I think anybody who'd been involved in a business understands it because they've been a victim of it," the Republican candidate said in response to questions about the violations.

  • "I've got 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 work on bridges, site development and water and recreation projects.

  • O'Dea said 85% of the company's projects are paid for by governments. And Colorado Newsline estimates Concrete Express has received $400 million from federal, state and local government contracts.
  • Prominent projects include Coors Field's parking lots, reconstruction of the Chatfield Dam reservoir and a new project to reconnect the Colorado River around Windy Gap Dam — the latter of which is possible after Bennet helped secure the funding.

Of note: O'Dea began construction work after high school and dropped out of college a semester early to start Concrete Express. He launched his career as a union contractor, but he has since dismissed unions, saying they "outlived a lot of their usefulness."

  • In turn, Dennis Dougherty, executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, which is backing Bennet, called O'Dea "a corporate wolf in worker's clothing."

The intrigue: O'Dea's critics, who are attempting to bring attention to his leadership at Concrete Express, are spotlighting two lawsuits against the company.

  • One involved a human resource manager who filed a 2019 lawsuit alleging age and disability discrimination after leaving the company. The case was settled with a non-disclosure agreement and O'Dea contends the evidence disputes the claims.
  • Another involved a Concrete Express gravel truck driver who killed a Boulder cyclist in 2006 and was cited for being overloaded with defective brakes. The company settled and the parties signed a non-disclosure agreement.

The other side: "He's highly respected in Colorado," the state Contractors Association leader Tony Milo said of O'Dea, who once led the organization and served on its board. "I think anyone who's trying to disparage him, or his company, is being purely political."

What's next: ProgressNow, a liberal advocacy organization, says it has identified more than 20 other parties injured by Concrete Express and is calling for O'Dea to release the parties from any limits on talking about the incidents.

  • O'Dea's campaign declined to respond to the demand when asked by Axios Denver.
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