On June 7, Deacon Salvador Alvarez, a Catholic champion for California farmworkers, passed away at his small family ranch in East San Jose. He was 74.
A social reformer for seven decades, Deacon Alvarez was instrumental in Cesar Chavez’s farmworkers union and other important social matters. He aimed to cure the social ills of his time with Catholic social teachings and a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Deacon Alvarez met Chavez in the late 1960s after completing his masters degree in social work at UC Berkeley. In 1976, he became a United Farm Workers researcher, before becoming a legislative aide to Dolores Huerta, a labor leader and civil rights activist. Deacon Alvarez and Huerta would continue their working relationship for decades.
During the deacon’s many years in Sacramento, he was instrumental in upholding the Agricultural Labor Relations Act despite heavy opposition from industry leaders. He also abolished the short-handled hoe, won compensation for farm workers and pushed UC Berkeley to compensate the agricultural workers displaced due to the university’s mechanization research.
During his time in Washington, D.C., he ensured farmworkers were included in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which allowed 1.4 million farm workers and their families to earn permanent legal status. It is the model used during today’s campaign for immigration reform.
A deacon of the Catholic Church, he saw his involvement in the UFW as a way of responding to the call of the Church to minister to the poor. Despite the time-consuming work as a lobbyist for Chavez and Huerta, he made time each day for prayer.
Deacon Alvarez is survived by his wife, Sylvia; his four children, Sabrina Gaughran, Sonia Alvarez-Oppus, Salvador Cesar Alvarez and Serena Alvarez; and his nine grandchildren.