Statement by the California Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Signing of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975

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Gov. Jerry Brown of California addresses members and supporters of the United Farm Workers (UFW), c. 1970s. 

Courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.

Few victories came for the UFW and its allies on the legislation front prior to the mid-1970s. While many politicians announced their support for the union, official government assistance in any form was not forthcoming. That ended in 1974 when Democrat Jerry Brown was elected governor of California. A strong supporter of farm workers and of Cesar Chavez, Brown called for the passage of legislation that would allow for unionization amongst farm workers with secret ballot elections. This legislation came to be known as the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act (CALRA). “I also believe it is time to extend the rule of law to the agriculture sector and establish the right of secret ballot elections for farm workers. The law I support will impose rights and responsibilities on both farm worker and farmer alike,” Brown said in his in his inaugural.[1] (Click here to read the text of CALRA.)

CALRA was introduced in the California legislature in April 1975 and passed two months later. It guaranteed the right to unionization and secret ballot elections, as well as established the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board as an intermediary on conflicts between unions and growers.

The passage of CALRA was hailed by various groups, including the bishops of California. In a statement presented here, the bishops said the new law’s significance “lies not only with the enactment of legal provisions to afford agricultural labor peace in our State, but more especially, with the recognition and protection of the individual dignity and rights of the State’s farm workers.” While waiting for the law to take effect, the bishops urged growers and workers to cease hostilities and work together to improve the agricultural situation in California.


California bishops statement on CALRA
Courtesy of ACUA

The passage of this law signaled the ultimate victory for the UFW, though it was also the climax of their power, as the fortunes of the organization would take a downturn throughout the 1980s due mainly to internal organizational issues. Despite this, the union still remains and continues to demand better conditions for farm workers. It also marked the end of direct Catholic Church action in the farm labor dispute, as the Church began to focus on other issues and withdraw from the fight in order to let CALRA work.



1. What is the significance of the California bishops announcing their support for CALRA?

2. As some California bishops had been reluctant to support the initiatives of the UFW in the past, why would they come out in support of this legislation in 1975?

[1] Brown, E. G. (1975). First inaugural address of Governor Edmund G. Brown. Retrieved from .