AMARILLO, Texas — Two weeks into the strike by more than 1,700 Asarco copper workers in Arizona and Texas, the bosses have refused to negotiate with the seven unions there, claiming they won’t meet until Nov. 14. It looks like Asarco is organizing to bring in replacement workers to try to break the strike, Teamsters Local 104 spokesperson Dawn Schumann told the Militant by phone from Tucson, Arizona, Oct. 29.
The workers and their unions are also preparing for what they believe could be a long and hard-fought strike. Groups of workers fanned out from the picket line by the Mission Mine in Sahuarita, Arizona, Oct. 29 to pass out flyers explaining what’s at stake in the strike, in neighboring communities. Plans are in the works already for a Thanksgiving dinner for strikers.
Workers who belong to the United Steelworkers, the largest numbers on strike; the Teamsters; and five other unions walked out Oct. 13 after rejecting Asarco’s “last, best and final” concession contract, which would have left most of the workers facing four more years without a pay raise, on top of nearly a decade without one.
Asarco is a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico, the fourth largest copper mining company in the world.
The Hayden, Arizona, and Amarillo smelters are shut down because of the strike. The Silver Bell mine, Asarco’s smallest, is still working, because some miners are crossing the picket lines, as are some workers at other mines. If Asarco attempts to bring in “replacement” workers, it would be a major escalation in its attack on the unions.
This area has been the scene of bitter struggles between miners and copper bosses for over 100 years, including the bruising three-year fight against Phelps Dodge in Morenci, Arizona, in the 1980s. Bosses replaced strikers with scabs and got the state government to send armed National Guard troops and SWAT sharpshooters to break the union.
Asarco hasn’t replied to interview requests by the Militant or other media.
‘We need the union’
“It’s not just about the money,” Jack James, a Haul truck operator at the Mission Mine, told the Militant. With the dangerous conditions in mining and smelting, “we can’t just wait for a government MSHA inspector to come by. We need the union to be there to make sure that faulty equipment and conditions are fixed quickly.”
James said that for the last decade workers “didn’t even get a cost-of-living increase. That means in reality our wages went down.” James was one of the unionists passing out flyers encouraging people to call Asarco and tell them to return to the negotiating table.
Worker-correspondents from the Militant visited the picket shack across from the Asarco refinery in Amarillo Oct. 19.
“We are standing up to let them know that we’re not going to go backward anymore,” said David Devore, a mobile equipment operator. “We are striking for the future. I have been here since 1976. But most of the workers here are young.”
“When Grupo bought Asarco in 1999, they let this refinery go bankrupt. We took a pay cut at the time,” Devore recalled. “In 2005 we went on strike for 5 ½ months. With the proposed increase in health insurance premiums we will actually lose $2 an hour.”
He said Asarco also wants to increase health insurance deductibles and to freeze retirement pay.
“The jobs are dangerous,” said Dave Burris, a journeyman electrician and member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1602. “We work with molten copper, high voltage and old broken-down equipment.”
“The union at Union Pacific railroad is refusing to bring materials into the plant,” Jon Mares, USW Local 5613 secretary-treasurer, told us while we walked the picket line. “FedEx and UPS truck drivers won’t cross the picket lines either.
“A Teamsters local donated $3,000 for our food pantry,” he said. “Members of USW Local 13-1 from down south drove over nine hours with a U-Haul full of supplies.”
While I was on the picket line area workers came by to give support. “They are our union brothers and sisters. We have to stick together,” said Jose Mirales, a member of Teamsters Local 577 at the Tyson beef slaughterhouse here.
Mares told the Militant by phone Oct. 30 that the union is organizing a rally at the Amarillo picket line Nov. 6. Strikers are picketing in below freezing temperatures and snow.
Like their fellow strikers in Amarillo, Asarco workers in Arizona are getting donations of money, food and other items from other unions, workers and small businesses in the area. The IBEW in Tucson, another of the unions on strike, is coordinating a food pantry for strikers.
Seth Galinsky in New York contributed to this article.