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Arizona copper strikers stand up to mining giant
 
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 69/No. 29August 1, 2005

 

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lead article
Arizona copper strikers
stand up to mining giant
Militant/Naomi Craine
Steelworkers Local 915 members picket outside Asarco’s Ray Mine in Kearny, Arizona, on July 17. Some 1,500 copper workers are on strike in Arizona and Texas.

BY NAOMI CRAINE  
KEARNY, Arizona—As the strike against Asarco here enters its fourth week, copper miners are bracing for a long fight. The walkout by 750 workers at the company’s Ray Mine and Hayden mill began July 1 when their contract expired. The action quickly spread to the other Asarco operations in Arizona and one in Amarillo, Texas, where workers had been working without a contract for one year. Most strikers are members of the United Steelworkers (USW). The 1,500 strikers also include members of the Operating Engineers, Teamsters, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, International Association of Machinists (IAM), and Boilermakers.

Workers say they struck over unfair labor practices by the owners. “The company is not negotiating,” said Daniel Madrigal, a member of USW Local 886, who has worked 27 years at the Asarco smelter in Hayden, Arizona. The bosses demanded concessions and have refused to talk, despite repeated proposals from the union to open negotiations, pickets said. Concession demands include a wage freeze, cuts to pensions and health benefits, and the extension of shifts from the current 8 hours to 12 hours without overtime pay.

Madrigal said the way the company makes job assignments jeopardizes workers’ safety. “They assign people without enough training and people get hurt,” he said. “Sometimes they have one man doing a two-person job.”

Asarco, one of the world’s largest copper producers, was purchased by Grupo Mexico in 1999. “Since Grupo took over they’ve said the wages are too high,” noted Ernest Bustamante, another member of USW Local 886.

Strikers report that so far the contractors who do work at the mines have honored their picket lines. But they are coming under increasing pressure to cross. “Road Machinery workers said they wouldn’t cross,” said Dennis Mar, referring to a contractor. “But Asarco said if they don’t, they won’t pay Road Machinery money that’s already owed. We need other unions to refuse to handle work related to Asarco.” Mar is a mechanic at the company’s Mission mine and a member of the Teamsters union.

Individual workers and a few local union delegations, including from the IAM at Raytheon in Tucson, have joined the picket lines to show their solidarity. On July 16 the striking unions organized a women’s support day. Relatives of strikers and some of the women who work at the mine beefed up the picket lines that day.

Over the last six months the company had done a lot of hiring, pickets report. Strikers at the Mission mine, a smaller operation south of Tucson, said a number of new hires have crossed the line there. It’s a different story at the large mine in Kearny and the smelter in neighboring Hayden. Manuel Ceniceros, a shop steward in USW Local 915, said new hires who are not yet in the union have been staying away and not crossing the picket lines. The union will fight to protect their jobs, he said.

Bill Grime, picketing the smelter July 17, said he had just started in the flash furnace last September, after working for construction contractors that are nonunion. “I never had any benefits before, and no protection,” he said, explaining why he supports the union.

Several strikers said union officials from their locals have been talking with unionists at Grupo Mexico’s mine and smelter in Sonora, Mexico, whose contract is about to expire. Some 2,100 members of the National Miners Union waged a hard-fought strike in 1999 at the owners’ massive mine in Cananea, Mexico.

Dean Hazlewood contributed to this article.

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