From Corvallis Tree Farm to Dead on the Way Home

A federal investigation into the day-after-Thanksgiving van crash that killed three Guatemalan migrant farm workers in Salem, found the Oregon labor contractor who hired the workers had violated multiple federal laws pertaining to worker safety during transport. 

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that Salem-based JMG Labor Contractor, managed by Jose Mota Gonzales, had no active registration as a farm labor contractor at the time of the crash and permitted the worker’s transportation while lacking required authorization. The employer was faulted with lack of safe transportation; the driver of the van was not registered as an employee of the business, had neither valid driver’s license nor proper insurance at the time.  

The workers had been harvesting Christmas trees in Corvallis for Holiday Tree Farms prior to the accident. After collecting their paychecks, the 13 workers loaded into a van to head home. 

On the fatal night, the van with 16 passengers total — out of which three were killed and at least eleven injured — was impacted in the side by a Ford 350 when 18-year-old Cory Kudna did not obey a traffic light and did not yield to oncoming traffic while making a left turn, according to Marion County police. 

Although Mota explained that he did not own the van and hadn’t arrange the transportation, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act specifically requires ”When using, or causing to be used, any vehicle for providing transportation to which this section applies, each agricultural employer, agricultural association, and farm labor contractor” shall ensure that any driver has a valid appropriate license and carries insurance. 

According to an Oregon State University study, Marion County has the second largest population of migrant workers in Oregon. 

By Joanna Rosinska