TUCSON, Arizona — Some 100 Asarco copper workers and their supporters rallied and picketed the company’s national headquarters here Dec. 16. They chanted, “What do we want? Fair contract!” and “Stand up, fight back!” as passing drivers honked in support.
Some 1,700 members of the Steelworkers, Teamsters and five other unions have been on strike since Oct. 13 at Asarco’s four complexes in Arizona, which include open pit mines and processing plants, and its refinery in Amarillo, Texas.
Asarco, which is a subsidiary of Mexico City-based mining and transportation giant Grupo Mexico, is out to bust the union. The bosses implemented their “last, best and final offer” Dec. 2, claiming negotiations were at an impasse, even as the unions urged them to return and talk.
The bosses’ “offer” — which workers call “insulting” — freezes wages for three-fourths of the workers who haven’t had a raise in nearly 10 years, freezes pensions, jacks up health insurance costs and eliminates contractual protections for union activity on the job. Asarco has not responded to repeated requests from the Militant and other media for comment.
“This is another opportunity to tell Asarco we are here and we are not going anywhere,” Dawn Schumann, statewide political coordinator for Teamsters Local 104, told the crowd at the start of the protest. “We are here to raise awareness.”
Local 104 Secretary-Treasurer Karla Schumann added that the protest was part of a national day of actions taking place in a half-dozen cities to spread the word about the copper miners strike. Those actions took place at CMX Cinemas, upscale movie theaters with bars in the U.S. owned by Grupo Mexico.
Dan Fein, a Walmart worker from Chicago, read a solidarity statement signed by 24 of his co-workers. “Your fight is our fight — solidarity is our power,” the statement said. “We don’t have a union at Walmart,” Fein added. “We need one.”
“The company wants to have the right to lay off miners without regard to seniority,” Karl Wagner, a tire man at the Mission Mine told this Militant worker-correspondent. “Asarco’s ‘best and final offer’ and their refusal to negotiate is just an attempt to break the union.”
‘Solidarity makes a difference’
Two days before this protest, Wagner said, as he was leaving the house a UPS driver stopped after seeing the strike sign in his front yard. “Still on strike?” the driver asked. “Remember we’re here behind you.”
“It’s those kind of things out of the blue that make a world of difference,” Wagner said. Like many other strikers, Wagner is starting a new job — at a local Walmart — to help get by during the strike.
Steelworker Ray Pacheco, a strike captain at the Mission Mine, said, “This strike is about stopping corporate greed.” Even the small pay raise for skilled workers under Asarco’s final offer “is more than offset by the increase they demand in health insurance premiums. How does that work? Copper now sells for $2.81 per pound — they can well afford a pay raise for everyone.”
“Conditions are getting rough for the strikers. Some have gotten other jobs, but continue to do their picket duty,” he added.
While the Amarillo, Texas, refinery, and Hayden, Arizona, smelter have been shut down by the strike, Asarco has maintained some production at the mines with supervisors, nonunion contractors, hired strikebreakers and some workers who crossed the lines.
“I never realized what a union is for until the strike happened,” Darrin Miller, 46, said at the protest. “The solidarity support we receive makes us family. Some workers began the strike with us, but then crossed the picket line. That hurts.”
‘We had no choice’
Ben Lucero has been a miner for 22 years but started at the Mission Mine as a haul truck operator just one week before the strike began. “The biggest issue is raises for all, not just the skilled trades people,” Lucero said. “The guys on strike know it’s a good fight and necessary fight. We had no choice but to strike.”
Many strikers view Asarco owner Grupo Mexico as an “evil and corrupt” foreign company mistreating American workers. The company is notorious for its disregard for safety and destruction of the environment at its mining operations in Mexico and elsewhere worldwide.
On Aug. 6, 2014, Grupo Mexico’s Buenavista del Cobre mine in Cananea, in the northwest of the country, spilled 40,000 cubic meters of acidified copper sulfate into the Sonora and Bacanuchi Rivers — the biggest environmental disaster in the history of Mexico. The toxic waste obliterated area agriculture, tourism, handicrafts and other ways of making a living. Some 22,000 area residents lost their drinking water and any way to get by.
The Mexican government agreed to let Grupo Mexico bosses continue and expand mining operations there. Promised cleanup and redevelopment was never completed.
While talking to strikers at the Mission Mine picket line, this worker correspondent noted that a poor safety record is not unique to Grupo Mexico, pointing out his experience, as well as a recent government report, showing that “the injury rate at Walmart is very high.”
Eduardo Placencio, Steelworkers Local 937 recording secretary, spoke to 50 teachers at the Tucson Education Association meeting Dec. 11. “It was important for us to be in solidarity with you when you were on strike last year,” Placencio told the meeting, referring to the 2018 teachers strike. “Your fight was our fight too.” The union matched the collection taken at the meeting, donating $530 to the Asarco strike fund.
More solidarity is needed. Spread the word. Strike supporters are encouraged to visit the picket lines. For strikers at the Ray Mine and Hayden Smelter, send contributions and messages to USW Local 915, Strike Assistance, P.O. Box 550, Kearny, AZ 85137. For strikers at the Amarillo refinery, send to USW Local 5613, 4230 Texas Hwy 136, Amarillo, TX 79108. For strikers at the Mission and Silver Bell complexes near Tucson, send to the Pima Area Labor Federation Community Services via paypal.me/palfcommunityservice. Solidarity messages to the strike can be sent via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bernie Senter in Los Angeles contributed to this article.