Briefline

Labor groups protest Senate candidate O’Dea’s business over discrimination suit, safety violations

By: - June 22, 2022 2:27 pm

State Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Democrat from Denver, speaks alongside labor leaders at a protest outside Concrete Express Inc., the construction company owned by U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea, on June 22, 2022. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

A coalition of labor groups took aim at Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea’s construction company on Tuesday, protesting Denver-based Concrete Express Inc. over allegations made in a discrimination lawsuit that was settled last year, as well as a history of safety violations.

Flanked by members of SEIU Local 105, LiUNA Local 720 and a towering inflatable “fat cat” erected outside CEI’s office, Colorado AFL-CIO director Dennis Dougherty said that it was time for Coloradans to “know the truth about Joe O’Dea’s business history.”

In a lawsuit filed in 2019, Barbara Johnson, who worked as CEI’s human-resources manager for five years beginning in 2011, alleged that O’Dea and other company executives had reduced her bonuses after a cancer diagnosis and retaliated against her for reporting concerns about age discrimination in personnel decisions. The case was settled under undisclosed terms in 2021.

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CEI’s general counsel called the allegations “absolutely false.” Both parties in the lawsuit have declined to comment on the specifics of the case, citing confidentiality provisions in the settlement.

Speakers at Wednesday’s protest also drew attention to CEI’s record of Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations, including a 2007 incident in which 13 of its workers were injured when a roof collapsed during construction on a building in Greenwood Village. OSHA later levied a $166,000 fine on O’Dea’s company.

“This employer was well aware of, yet did not comply with, the standards that would have protected employees from the hazards we found during our inspection,” OSHA’s area director said at the time.

“You all as voters should know — what have the people who are seeking to represent you done before they decided to step up and run for office?” said state Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat.

The criticism from Democrats and labor groups comes in the hectic final days of the GOP Senate primary, in which O’Dea faces far-right state Rep. Ron Hanks of Cañon City. Democrats have launched a last-minute ploy to boost Hanks’ profile with millions of dollars in super PAC expenditures on TV and digital ads, in an apparent effort to secure what many view as a more favorable general-election matchup for incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

State Rep. Colin Larson, a Republican from Littleton, was on hand to respond to Tuesday’s press conference on the O’Dea campaign’s behalf, calling it a “pathetic and desperate” display.

“What they’ve been doing to Joe is really despicable,” Larson said.

Dougherty didn’t answer directly when asked whether Wednesday’s protest was part of an effort to boost Hanks over O’Dea in next week’s primary, but said that not “enough attention has been paid to (O’Dea’s) record when it comes to workers,” especially given the candidate’s promises to represent the interests of working families in Congress.

The Colorado AFL-CIO has endorsed Bennet’s reelection campaign.

“You don’t see Ron Hanks going out and trying to be something he’s not,” Dougherty said. “He owns the fact that he’s anti-union. He owns the fact that he’s anti-worker.”

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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