Burgos condemns PennAg Industries VP for insensitive migrant workers comments

HARRISBURG, May 28 – State Rep. Danilo Burgos, D-Phila., today issued a statement condemning comments made by PennAg Industries Executive Vice President Christian Herr about immigrant migrant agriculture workers during a House Agricultural & Rural Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday.

Herr, during a committee discussion about the vulnerability of farming employees—a workforce mostly comprised of migrants-- temporarily residing in farm labor camp housing in the wake of the pandemic, said that “ethnic families, close-knit families ride the buses to these facilities together,” describing their lengthy travels to commercial food processing facilities for employment that involves working for long hours and for low pay, while living in subpar employer-sponsored housing conditions as “cultural in many ways.”

Burgos said he was deeply angered by Herr’s remarks, calling them insensitive and dehumanizing. He also said Herr’s assertion that the overrepresentation of migrants enduring these exploitative practices are their customary traditions absolves perpetrators instituting this predation of any accountability.

“I am deeply disturbed that Herr is so morally bankrupt that he’s able to causally contort the systemic exploitation of marginalized people-- desperately trying to survive and provide for their families-- performing physically taxing labor in exchange for a pittance into something that’s inherent to them as a people,” Burgos said. “They aren’t beasts of burden or work mules whose sole purpose of existence is to fuel our economy and to make our lives easier. They are human beings with real dreams and real values that should never, ever be defined by what Herr insinuated to be their supposed eagerness to do grunt work.”

The freshman legislator pointed out that farm labor housing camps have since undergone state-mandated supplemental adjustments in efforts to mitigate COVID-19 exposure, after reports of 130 food processing employees at Pennsylvania meat plants tested positive.

“Migrant labor is the crux of the industry Herr represents and he should display more compassion for their plights. These workers have been on the frontlines throughout this fatal pandemic and are the reason why our food supply chain has not been compromised. Yet, they continue to work underpaid and risk their lives in unsafe environments. Additionally, most have not seen any relief during this crisis, as many are ineligible for the federal stimulus compensation and other social programs because of their status, despite consistently paying 8 percent of their income to state and federal taxes. It’s a huge contribution relative to how little they earn,” he said.

Burgos, an advocate for migrant workers’ rights, in April introduced a resolution, along with his House Democratic colleagues, urging Congress to acknowledge the nearly 10 million undocumented workers in any additional pandemic relief legislation.