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Lay workers at Texas Roman Catholic churches unionize

Posted: Friday, July 12, 2002

SAN JUAN, Texas (AP) -- Lay workers at four Roman Catholic parishes who were worried about pensions and other benefits have joined unions -- a rare move for church employees of any denomination, labor groups say.

The employees have signed contracts with the United Farm Workers of America and AFL-CIO.

''I'm 65 years old. I've worked for the church for 24 years. Then they told us our pension fund is over,'' said Angie Pena, an employee of St. Joseph the Worker Church in McAllen. ''I want a future. I want security. And I want justice.''

The diocese vicar general, the Rev. Robert Maher, said the change was meant to help the employees. ''It became evident that people would not have a healthy income from that pension plan,'' Maher said.

But many workers said they received much less than they expected when the plan was cashed out.

Rebecca Flores, a UFW spokeswoman, said Brownsville Bishop Raymundo Pena last year changed the retirement fund without consulting employees.

Flores said the UFW is talking to five other employees' groups in the diocese in addition to those who signed union cards in recent months.

The three other churches where workers unionized are Holy Spirit Catholic Church in McAllen, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hidalgo and St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in San Carlos.

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