Federal authorities have fined a North Carolina company almost $56,000 for labor violations linked to a Down East Maine vehicle crash that injured 14 foreign workers four years ago.

Workers for Garcia Forest Service, a tree-trimming company, were injured and hospitalized when their passenger van went off the road on U.S. Route 1 in Harrington in November 2017. Police said no one in the van was wearing a seat belt, according to a report from WABI-TV news at the time.

It is the second time in seven years that Garcia Forest Service has been sanctioned for labor violations involving foreign workers, according to a news release issued Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The workers hurt in the crash were in the United States under the federal H-2B visa program, designed for temporary seasonal labor, and were employed as “fir tippers,” a colloquial term for evergreen branch cutters, the Labor Department. All of the workers later recovered from the incident.

“Migrant forestry workers are often among the most vulnerable population in the workforce,” said Steven McKinney, acting district director of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, in a statement. “The injuries sustained in this accident were preventable.”

A Labor Department investigation found Garcia Forest Service failed vehicle safety standards, allowed underage driving and did not make sure drivers had valid licenses.

In addition, the company did not pay workers on time, did not keep pay records or disclose employment conditions to workers, and violated working arrangements made with workers, the Labor Department said.

Garcia also violated H-2B program rules by failing to keep documents on file, placing workers outside an approved employment area, paying rates higher than advertised when trying to recruit U.S. workers, and hiring foreign workers without necessary expertise.

The company and its owner, Samuel Garcia, paid a total of $55,810 to resolve the violations, the department said. For three years, it also has to hire an outside consultant to assist with filing paperwork for migrant workers and use a third party to help apply for workers under the H-2B program.

In 2014, Garcia Forest Service was banned from bidding on federal contracts for three years after it was forced to pay back wages and benefits to migrant workers on a government reforestation project in Minnesota.

Over the course of three contracts starting in 2005, the company violated minimum wage laws and did not pay overtime, fringe benefits or holiday pay to H-2B workers.

The company eventually paid 12 workers almost $27,500 in back wages, the Labor Department said at the time.

In an unrelated incident in September 2002, 14 migrant workers were killed when their van careened over the side of a bridge and plunged into the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in northern Maine.


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