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Pastoral Staff To Keep Jobs
Holy Spirit Case May Set Precedent

An agreement between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and the Cesar Chavez-founded United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO has resolved a two-month dispute over five south Texas parish workers who were fired from their jobs on June 18. The case could have far reaching ramifications for Catholic Church workers in the U.S.
The dispute arose when five parish workers were fired after new pastors arrived at their churches: Holy Spirit employees Ann Cass, Edna Cantu, Martha Sanchez and Rosario Vaello from Holy Spirit; and Sacred Heart workers Quintero and Cantu (who also worked at Holy Spirit). Terms of the settlement include:

  • The church and the UFW will negotiate a diocese-wide grievance procedure so parish workers cannot be terminated without having exhausted a procedure to protect their rights.
  • No newly assigned pastor or parish administrator will be able to fire a parish worker during the first 90 days after assuming duties at a church except in cases involving “egregious conduct” by an employee.
  • The church agreed to implement the UFW contract signed in July 2002 covering the workers at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in McAllen.
  • Back pay and lost medical benefits will be paid to two fired employees at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hidalgo, Bonifacio Quintero and Edna Cantu.

Pastoral Minister Ann Cass praised the community , the media and the attorneys for the victory. Cass, an ‘anchor’ for the FutureChurch/CTA Women in Church Leadership project, was characteristically gracious: “Thanks to all of you for your prayers and your support. This has been a tough struggle for us all. As Joan Chittester states, we hope the struggle has helped to make us new people, not just older! Si se puede!” She also noted: “the issue of the union contract will be dealt with later as the diocese has sent the contract to the Vatican, they think, to get a ruling there. So, we will deal with that issue when it happens.”

Rebecca Flores, Texas state director of the UFW, praised the courage of the parish workers: “As a result,parish workers across the diocese have won important protections through the terms of this settlement agreement... this historic settlement reflects the spirit of what the church is all about. It mirrors the Catholic Church’s most basic teachings on social justice and the right of workers to organize.”

Those rights are contained in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum, issued in 1891. As late as 1991, Pope John Paul II wrote in Centesimus Annus that Pope Leo’s encyclical affirms as “inalienable and proper to the human person [the] natural human right” to form unions. The church’s code of Canon Law also clearly affirms these rights. (Further details available at http://www.ufw.org/c81503.htm)

Summer 2003



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