A story in the Northwest Labor Press today has worrisome new details regarding a February accident at the Ross Island Bridge, in which a father fell forty feet onto his son, who was working at the site for the same company, an out-of-state business with a $22 million contract with the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Marco Montello fell from scaffolding under the bridge onto his son, Christopher, at a lower level of scaffolding, requiring their rescue by the Portland Fire and Rescue Bureau which was covered by both KATU and KOIN. Both Montellos were hospitalized with injuries. Workers at that time complained of unsafe working conditions.
But until today's NWLP story, the extent of those safety concerns had not been reported.
Eight months before the Montellos' injuries, the project superintendent with the ODOT contractor, Minnesota-based Abhe & Svoboda, had heard workers express concerns about the safety of the scaffolding. And according to the NWLP, Abhe & Svoboda superintendent Leon Wagner responded to those concerns by telling the worker, Shane Duane Luey: "Next time you have a problem with safety, talk to me. Then get in your car and hit the f***ing road."
Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors reportedly visited the following week, but found nothing wrong.
Luey was later written up after taking a picture at the work site, and had his contract canceled after an injury. His son, who was also working on the bridge, was then fired, "ostensibly for violating a new rule prohibiting talking on the job."
And that wasn't all. As the NWLP reports:
At least three other OSHA complaints have been filed on Abhe & Svoboda’s Ross Island Bridge project. And other former Abhe & Svoboda employees echo Luey’s description of an employer openly disregarding safety — in interviews and written statements provided to government agencies and to Painters and Allied Trades District Council 5. The union has been investigating Abhe & Svoboda to find out how the company was able to underbid a unionized contractor by $11 million.
Other workers, including a union organizer, faced retaliation after raising safety issues, the story claims. It also quotes a former worker who says the company discouraged workers from wearing safety harnesses because it slowed them down.
The contractor's safety manager, Thurman London, also had a troublesome record, according to the NWLP story:
It turns out Thurman London used to be a federal OSHA compliance officer, in Denver — until he was indicted, convicted and sentenced for theft of government property. According to a 1997 report from the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Labor, London absconded with an OSHA government-owned vehicle, eight camcorders and other office equipment, and used a government-issued credit card to make about $15,000 in unauthorized personal purchases, including clothes, restaurant meals, and car rentals. He later repaid $13,192 to the government, and his wife repaid $850.
WW asked Abhe & Svoboda, the Portland Fire Bureau, ODOT and Oregon OSHA for comment, and will update this post when they respond.
Update 3:56 pm: Oregon OSHA spokesman Aaron Corvin replied with the following statement:
We currently have three inspections open with Abhe & Svoboda, including the accident investigation.
We don’t discuss the details of active investigations.
When the investigations are completed, the results will speak for themselves.
Update 1:20 pm April 20: ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton says his agency will review the Abhe & Svoboda as normal toward the end of its duration, and that other agencies such as OSHA and the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries are responsible for looking into safety issues at the project site. "Our perspective at this point is we wait to see what the results of an investigation would be. We then can make determinations about what steps we would take," Hamilton says.