IUPAT Urged Safety Investigation Before Workers Fell in Portland

Abhe Svoboda, Inc., a national industrial coatings contractor, pushed painters to their limits with threats and intimidation, resulting in a dramatic rescue by Portland Firefighters.  A father and son were seriously injured on Wednesday, February 8, 2017 and rushed to OHSU.  The Ross Island Bridge is now the scene of an OSHA investigation.

Abhe Svoboda, Inc., a nonunion contractor out of Minnesota, is currently behind schedule in their attempt to fulfill a painting contract of the Ross Island Bridge, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) website. ODOT’s own cost estimate for the extensive paint removal, painting, and rivet replacement, was between $30 and $40 million.  The contractor, Abhe Svoboda, Inc., was the apparent low bidder for just under $22 million.  A counter bid was submitted by a Union contractor, which estimated the project to be safely completed at a cost of $33 million.  Price estimations factored in rigging, containments built over the Willamette River, and the safe removal of Lead, Cabmium and Chromium.

The contract specifies a three year timeline that will expire in the summer of 2017.  In order to hasten the completion, supervisors have instructed workers to ignore specifications of the painting process.  A painter on the project has reported a culture of intimidation by Abhe Svoboda, Inc.  The company used a planned safety meeting, on Monday, February 6th, 2017, to notify all workers that any reports brought to their attention would be viewed as hearsay.

The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District (IUPAT) Council #5 has been monitoring this painting project since its late start in 2016.  A report was filed with OSHA just a week prior to the accident by a union representative compelling OSHA to investigate.  They are now conducting a fore cause investigation into the forty foot fall as well.

Portland television KATU 2 news reports on the accident.

ODOT was advised of concerns by the IUPAT in the weeks leading up to the accident.  ODOT returned a review of the concerns in the hours, just after Wednesday’s injury accident, by email to the Union.  ODOT’s Metro East Area Manager of Region 1, answered the Union’s concerns, stating “this… safety officer (Abhe Svoboda) also discusses safety concerns with workers, inspects the worksite and is responsible for the health and safety of each employee on the project.”  This was, tragically, not the case on Wednesday.

Abhe Svoboda has a long history of safety violations in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, as well as several misclassification cases, which resulted in the underpayment of workers in the Northwest and throughout the United States.  Accountability for those injured at the Ross Island Bridge now lies with OSHA.  Removal of Abhe Svoboda, Inc. from this painting project is ODOT’s duty in a state that values workers’ safety.

The thoughts and prayers of the men and women of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades are with the two workers.

They and their fellow workers on that project, and workers on other bridge and highway projects across North America, have one of the most dangerous careers in construction.  At all times, safety must remain a top priority.

The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades trains safety skills on an almost daily basis in hundreds of training programs throughout the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, too many contractors refuse to show the same concern for the safety on the jobsite, and accidents like the one in Portland occur.

The IUPAT has representatives who work every day to not only make certain our members are up to date on their own safety skills, but that their jobsites are safe as well.

Safety cannot be dictated by a company’s bottom line.  Ultimately, it is up to the workers and those who represent them to make certain everyone goes home safely to their families at day’s end.