Farm labor contractor pays $56K in penalties for violating migrant worker, immigration laws after a vehicle accident that injured 14 workers in Maine

4 months ago
AMERICA NEWS NOW

Garcia Forest Service to take additional compliance measures to prevent future violations following US Department of Labor investigation

MANCHESTER, NH – A North Carolina-based tree thinning contractor who employed foreign forestry workers in Maine as fir-tippers has paid a total of $55,810 in civil money penalties to the U.S. Department of Labor to resolve violations of federal laws protecting migrant and seasonal workers, and preventing adverse conditions for U.S. workers. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Administrative Law Judges ordered the resolution in a decision and order approving consent findings.

The department’s Wage and Hour Division began an investigation after a van accident in Maine injured 14 workers. Investigators found that Garcia Forest Service LLC and Samuel Garcia violated the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act when they:

  • Failed to comply with U.S. Department of Transportation vehicle standards for safe loading and minimum age requirements, and applicable state safety standards.
  • Failed to ensure each driver had an appropriate and valid license.
  • Failed to pay wages to workers when due, provide a wage statement to each worker, make and keep records with respect to each worker, and disclose employment conditions to workers.
  • Violated, without justification, the terms of working arrangements they made with the workers.

The employees worked as fir-tippers under the H-2B visa program, through a temporary employment certification. Violations of that program’s requirements resulted from the employers’ failure to:

  • Retain all documents pertaining to applications and registration related to temporary employment certifications.
  • Place H-2B employees only in the approved area of intended employment.
  • Comply with the prohibition against preferential treatment of the guest workers. Garcia Forest Service paid H-2B employees rates higher than they disclosed when recruiting U.S. workers, required three months experience in the job orders but hired H-2B workers without the requisite experience, and failed to disclose that lodging costs would be covered for the duration of the petition.

In addition to the penalties, Garcia and his company must hire an outside consultant – for the next three years – who will assist them with properly drafting and submitting MSPA-related applications, and issue an annual compliance report with a copy to the division. They are also required to use a third party to aid in drafting and submitting their applications for temporary employment certifications under the H-2B program.

“Migrant forestry workers are often among the most vulnerable populations in the workforce. They deserve to receive the full protection the laws provide, including wage, disclosure and worker safety requirements,” said Wage and Hour Division Acting District Director Steven McKinney in Manchester, New Hampshire. “The injuries sustained in this accident were preventable. We strongly encourage farm labor contractors and others employing such workers to review their practices to ensure they comply with applicable laws and contact the Wage and Hour Division if they have questions.”

The division’s Northern New England District Office conducted the original investigation. The department’s regional Office of the Solicitor in Boston drafted and filed the consent findings in the case.

For more information about the MSPA, H-2B program and other laws enforced by the division, contact the toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.