Statement on the Delano Grape Strike by the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno

Bishop Aloysius Willinger CSSR 001.JPG

Bishop Aloysius J. Willinger
Courtesy of the Baltimore Province 
of the Redemptorists Archives

In September 1965, farm workers in the table grape industry in California went out on strike, an act led by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in the Delano area. The strike was joined soon after by the National Farmer Workers Association, led by charismatic activist/organizer Cesar Chavez. The two groups would combine in 1966 to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) and continue the strike and use boycotts in order to force concessions for better wages and living conditions from the grape growers. It was the beginning of a five-year quest to secure a better way of life for the laborers in the grape fields. Throughout the length of the strike, Chavez would constantly seek outside support for the union, including pleas for assistance from the U.S. Catholic Church.

One of the first clergy groups to profess any support for the workers in the area was the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno, which included the Delano area (Monterey and Fresno are now separate dioceses, with Delano falling under the authority of Fresno). Bishop Aloysius J. Willinger issued a statement on June 17, 1966, confirming previous Church teachings that workers have a right to organize and bargain collectively, as well as to the choice of representation. Willinger wrote that “certain wineries have concluded agreements with a farm labor organization as the sole bargaining agent for their workers” and that “no elections were held among their farm workers to determine if they wanted to join a union.”


Monterey statement.pdf

Grape strike statement
Courtesy of ACUA

These statements appeared to be directed at the Teamsters Union, which had negotiated contracts with some growers in the area to be the union representative for workers, despite the fact that most of the workers had no say in this decision. The bishop subsequently called for impartial elections on the union question among workers to allow them to decide on their own who will represent their interests with management. “In this way, the farm workers of Delano will be free to exercise their right of self-determination and their right of choice of representation according to the democratic, American way of life,” Willinger concluded.

While the statement is commendable for what it did say, it is perhaps most notable for what it did not say: there was no official statement of support for the strike or for the UFWOC. That kind of support was still several years away.



1. Why is the bishop careful not to endorse any particular union or grower?

2. What is the basis for the bishop’s support for free elections?