Workers on strike since Oct. 13 against Asarco copper bosses at the company’s mine and processing complexes in Arizona and its smelter in Texas are winning broad solidarity for their fight for better wages, benefits and union rights.
“The support’s been nonstop,” Alex Terrazas, president of United Steelworkers Local 937 and a utility worker at the Mission open pit mine, told the Militant by phone Nov. 5. “The best has been the tons of common people coming by to drop off food or just hang out with us on the picket line.
“When someone who doesn’t work beside you comes out and says, ‘I stand with you,’ it’s like a rejuvenation. It shows we’re out there for a reason.”
Members of the teachers union, the nurses union, and the Pima Area Labor Federation, as well as the sheet metal, carpenters and machinists unions have donated food and money as well as walking the picket lines, which are up around the clock.
More than 1,700 workers from eight unions at the copper complexes went on strike after voting by 77% to reject the company’s “last, best and final” offer. Asarco’s proposal left “two-thirds of the workers without any pay increase for the next four years,” Terrazas said. Most workers have not had a wage increase in 10 years.
And that’s on top of Asarco’s demands to freeze pensions — which had been slashed for new hires in 2011 — and jack up the cost of health insurance. “When you add it all up, we would be taking a steep pay cut,” he said. Similar attacks are faced by millions of workers in industries across the country.
The bosses also want to get rid of a neutrality agreement with the unions, “which protects our right to be able to organize and speak about the union,” Terrazas said. “They want to get rid of the union. That’s why we’re not going to quit.”
The strike has forced Asarco to shut down its smelters in Hayden, Arizona, and Amarillo, Texas, despite attempts by the bosses to keep production going and break the strike. While the strike is solid at most of the mines and smelters, at Silver Bell, Asarco’s smallest mine with less than 140 workers, most miners are crossing the line.
Asarco has also been hiring “temporary replacement” workers, but has so far been unable to get enough production to restart the smelters.
“They’re trying to push production over safety,” Terrazas said. “We’ve seen the ambulance going in there. I know of at least three workers injured since the strike began.”
Some union members have been talking to the scabs. “Some workers have been asking about coming back out. Their conscience is eating at them,” he said.
Striker Monica Baldillo, a heavy equipment operator at the Hayden complex and a member of USW Local 886, told the Militant by phone “a lot of small businesses in Mammoth, Hayden and Kearny have helped us. They say ‘we’re supporting you.’ It’s amazing.”
Maria’s Cafe in Mammoth has been handing out free breakfast burritos to strikers in the area. Some strikers “don’t want to spend money to buy some food when they need to pay bills,” Maria Garcia, the cafe owners’ daughter, told the Tucson Sentinel Oct. 31. The solidarity is “a community thing, trying to motivate them to continue this,” she added.
Teamsters Local 104 spokesperson Dawn Schumann took a break from cooking breakfast for picketers at the Mission Mine to return the Militant’ s request for an update on the strike.
“One of our Teamsters freight drivers came by here yesterday, brought his smoker and cooked chicken for the strikers all day long,” she noted. That was Jimmy Harrison, who works for UPS. The picket lines are bolstered at shift change time, three times a day. Strikers and their families can come by and get a hot meal at the midday shift change.
The Pima Area Labor Federation has set up a food pantry for the strikers at the IBEW Local 570 hall in Tucson.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is organizing a solidarity day at the Mission and Silver Bell Mine picket line Nov. 13.
Asarco told the union bargaining committee Oct. 30 that it will return to the negotiating table Nov. 14, the first talks since the strike began.
The company is owned by Grupo Mexico, which owns mines in Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Spain. It reported a profit of $1.3 billion in 2018.
It has not responded to the Militant’ s request for comment.
The Arizona AFL-CIO is urging everyone to “stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters on strike against Asarco and Grupo Mexico!”
Send solidarity messages to the strikers via firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations to the food pantry can be made via: paypal.me/palfcommunityservice. Everyone is welcome to join the picket lines in Arizona and Amarillo, Texas.
Deborah Liatos, a rail worker and member of SMART-TD Local 1544 from Los Angeles, contributed to this article.