"The Bishops and the Farm Labor Dispute"

Donnelly mass001.jpg

Bishop Joseph Donnelly, right of center, offers a blessing on a picket line as Msgr. George Higgins, right, looks on.

Courtesy of ACUA

The National Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Ad Hoc Committee officially began its work in California in February 1970, and over the course of the next six months would assist in the negotiations between growers and the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC). The work that had been put into the strike since 1965 finally paid off in late July 1970, when more than 25 growers agreed to contracts with the UFWOC, effectively ending the strike and giving Cesar Chavez and his union a monumental victory. (Click here to see video of contract signing, along with comments by Chavez and Bishop Joseph Donnelly.)

It was a short celebration, however, as the union and the committee immediately turned its attention to a new threat in the form of the Teamsters Union creating sweetheart contracts with lettuce growers in the Salinas Valley, beginning what would later be termed “The Salad Bowl Strike,” or “The Battle of the Salad Bowl,” due to the UFWOC’s attempts to strike the Teamster-aligned growers.

With this tension, the question became for at least one news organization, the National Catholic News Service, why would the bishops become involved in such actions? It was a question that was answered in an interview with Bishop Joseph Donnelly of Hartford, one of five bishops on the Ad Hoc Committee. Donnelly answered that the Church teaches humans have a basic right to organize and, by extension, bargain collectively, and that when these rights are denied, the Church has a moral obligation to stand for what is right.

Bishops Farm Labor Dispute.pdf

The Bishops and the Farm Labor Dispute

Courtesy of ACUA

The interview was yet a further pledge of support for farm workers, and for the UFWOC, from the committee representing the bishops in the United States.



1. How does Donnelly invoke the encyclicals to defend worker rights?

2. According to Donnelly, why is collective bargaining essential to justice for workers?

3. How do Chavez and the UFWOC represent more than just the grape strike?

4. How does Donnelly show sympathy for the small grower?

5. What evidence does Donnelly cite to defend Chavez’ anti-communist credentials?

6. What does Donnelly’s answer about the sacristy imply for Christians and Catholics who are not directly involved in the labor-management negotiations for California?