March 20, 1998

Over ten years ago the U.S. bishops issued a pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All, which emphasized that the economy exists for the people, not the people for the economy. We stated that the loss of farms and the exodus of farmers from the land since the 1930s had led to a loss of a valued way of life. In addition, we observed that those farmers who remain are under great pressure to hold down the costs of food production. Some have done this by using new technologies which may employ fewer people. Others have done this by controlling wages. In this reality farmworkers have become among the lowest paid and poorest benefited laboring group in America.

We are sympathetic to the economic realities that our farm owners face as they are caught between a market which seeks to maximize profit and consumers who demand the lowest possible cost for food products. We stress that all of us share responsibility for the plight of low paid farmworkers. No other country spends proportionally as little on food as we in the United States.

In Economic Justice for All, we wrote, "Justice demands that worker guarantees such as minimum wages and benefits and unemployment compensation be extended to farmworkers on the same basis as all other workers." We also wrote, " Farmworkers have a legitimate right to belong to unions of their choice and to bargain collectively for just wages and working conditions."

Drawing on the principles of Catholic social teaching and with the express offer of acting as a mediator in the recent efforts to organize farm laborers in the strawberry fields of the Watsonville/Salinas area, in April 1997 our brother Bishop Sylvester D. Ryan of Monterey issued a statement A Call for a Just Community. We, the Catholic bishops of California, support our brother Bishop in his efforts and his statement and wish to restate these important principles at this time

First, All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of 1ife (food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, economic security).

The right to life means more than mere subsistence. In return for honest and competent labor it requires wages sufficient to sustain a good quality of life, safety, adequate housing, as well as the means of education for one's family and a hope for one's future.

And second, All people have the right to productive work, just wages and benefits, decent working conditions, as well as the right to organize and join unions or other associations.

As pastors we seek to understand more fully the economic realities affecting the lives of God's people--farmworkers, growers and distributors. We are present with you. We know that as followers of Jesus we will seek to respect each individual and their family. We will strive together to build a better community and know that we must assist those families who are struggling to live decently among us. We recognize that as union activity begins, emotions can run high. We ask those who are part of our Catholic community to work for a just settlement. With confidence in our loving God, and trusting in the Spirit, we know we can work together for the good of all.

We join Bishop Ryan in calling for justice in our communities, in calling for a campaign of prayer and education, and in pledging our support for any way that brings about economic justice for all.

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November 10, 2002 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops