“We don’t like going on strike, but when we get pushed against the wall, we are going to take action and we did,” United Steelworkers spokesperson Manny Armenta told the press outside the Asarco mine in Sahuarita, near Tucson, Oct. 14. Some 2,000 Asarco workers from nine unions went on strike the night before at four open pit copper mine complexes in Arizona and a smelter in Amarillo, Texas.
The union members have been forced to work 10- to 12-hour shifts, Armenta noted. “It takes a toll,” he said. “People deserve better pay.”
“These workers have already endured nine years without a pay raise — and to receive a final offer that freezes pensions plans, leaves two thirds of the workers without a raise, and more than doubles their out-of-pocket employee paid health care is not an offer of equity, it is an insult,” said Teamsters Local 104 spokesperson Karla Schumann.
The company said their concession demands were their “last, best and final” offer.
Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, International Association of Machinists, United Auto Workers, International Union of Operating Engineers and the Boilermakers are also part of the strike. Workers are picketing the five struck Asarco facilities around the clock.
Asarco is owned by Grupo Mexico, the largest mining company in Mexico. Union members note that copper prices over the last several years have been double or triple what they were over the previous three decades, leading to higher profits for the bosses.
On the eve of the strike Asarco workers won a victory they’ve been fighting for since 2011. On Oct. 7, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a company appeal against a court order to pay hundreds of workers hired since then over $10 million in copper production bonuses.
Copper workers have a long history of standing up to the mine bosses in Arizona. A hard-fought three-year battle against concessions demanded by Phelps Dodge began in 1983. The Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers union was broken when the bosses brought in strikebreakers and got the government to send in hundreds of Arizona National Guard, state troopers and SWAT sharpshooters. Today the nonunion mine, one of the largest in the world, is run by Freeport McMoRan.
Union members at Asarco were forced on strike in 1990 and for four months in 2005.