Abhe & Svoboda fires union salt amid safety complaints


It’s steady rain in the hour before dawn March 15 as passersby and workers are greeted with a banner and fliers by organizers from Painters District Council 5. The target: nonunion Abhe & Svoboda, contracted to repaint the underside of the Ross Island Bridge. “Let James Svoboda know that it is not okay for him to discriminate against employees who report safety issues and job conditions,” says the flier.

Nonunion paint contractor Abhe & Svoboda is under increasing scrutiny for its management of a $22 million Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) painting project underneath the Ross Island Bridge.

Oregon OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is still investigating a Feb. 8 accident in which a worker fell 40 feet and landed on another worker, sending both to the hospital after a Portland Fire Bureau ladder rescue.

Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries is investigating  a pair of civil rights complaints filed Feb. 28 by an African-American Navy veteran who was fired Feb. 4. Among other things, the worker says Abhe & Svoboda badly mishandled a complaint about sexual harassment, tolerated an atmosphere of racial hostility, and fired her in retaliation for making a safety complaint — after she was injured on the job.

Finally, the National Labor Relations Board is investigating charges that the company fired worker Omar Rubi Feb. 16 in retaliation for legally protected activity — including telling coworkers they have the right to voice safety concerns. Rubi, a union salt, spoke with the Labor Press, and before the ink was dry on our Feb. 17 story, was fired in person by company president James Svoboda — right after a site visit from agents of ODOT and OSHA.


  1. I stopped to receive a flyer from men handing them out between the Tillikum Bridge max stop and OHSU Waterfront area (Portland, OR). The person I talked to had been fired from reporting safety violations to the company, and said the very next day after that, two workers fell into the river!

    He talked about how the company is cutting corners in other areas than safety, including in materials and in other ways that will result in the bride needing repairs again in a few years. Another way they are cutting corners is taking care of waste from the project. The flyer addresses the issue of ABHE dumping debris into our Willamette River. “Debris is being dumped into the beautiful Willamette River during the rehab and repairing of the Ross Island Bridge. The people of Portland should be outraged. Just like the employees of Abhe & Svoboda who have come forward to report what is going on.” It gives the number of the company to call to let them know we care. (952) 447-6025.

    Many people just walk by when someone is passing out flyers; we all do that. I am writing to pass on the information. Some who didn’t take a flyer care about our river and our labor workers (unions!), and would like to know!


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