‘Asarco wants to take everything away,’ strikers say, build Feb. 24 rally

By Deborah Liatos
March 2, 2020
Copper miners on strike against Asarco picket Ray Mine near Kearny, Arizona, Feb. 6.
United Steelworkers Local 937Copper miners on strike against Asarco picket Ray Mine near Kearny, Arizona, Feb. 6. The workers deserve — and need — solidarity in standing up to company’s union-busting drive.

Strikers at the Asarco mining complexes in Arizona and Texas are gearing up for a Feb. 24 solidarity rally at the Phoenix Convention Center outside the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration National Conference. The labor movement in the area is building the action.  

“We’re taking on the company that wants to take everything away from us. They want us to go four more years without a raise,” Lyle Murphy, president of United Steelworkers Local 5252 and a striking worker at the Ray Mine in Kearny, Arizona, says on a union-made video. “We’re not going to take it any more.”

Murphy told the Militant  by phone Feb. 16 that the strikers are keeping up a spirited picket line and continue to get real community support. He said the local will be sending members to the Phoenix rally. 

Some 1,700 workers from seven unions have been on strike since Oct. 13 at the Mission and Silver Bell mines near Tucson; the Ray Mine and Hayden smelter complexes in the “copper triangle” east of Phoenix; and Asarco’s refinery in Amarillo, Texas. 

The workers are fighting against a vicious union-busting drive by the bosses, who refuse to negotiate. The company boasts it will impose steep concessions, including extending a decadelong wage freeze for most of the miners, tripling health care costs, and restricting the unions’ right to protect workers on the job.

Arizona is the heart of the copper industry in the U.S. and the owners have fought for decades to break the unions and boost their profits. Miners lost a three-year pitched battle in the 1980s with Phelps Dodge bosses at the Morenci mine, the largest in the state. The company was backed by sharpshooters and National Guard sent in by the governor.  

While the strikers have shut down Asarco’s Amarillo refinery and Hayden smelter, the company continues some production at other complexes. It advertises for personnel on its website and uses supervisors, nonunion contractors and some workers who have crossed the picket line.  

“Right now, for the scabs, there’s a high potential for injuries,” said Murphy. “The supervisors are doing the training for the jobs. It’s not proper training. They don’t even know how to do the jobs. We know there was a bus of scabs that got dropped off at the Kearny clinic to get examined to start work at the mine.”  

Buses, car caravan to Feb. 24 action

“There will be a bus from Tucson to bring people to the strike support action in Phoenix on Feb. 24,” Eduardo Placencio, a striking worker and recording secretary of USW Local 937 in Tucson told the Militant  by phone Feb. 14.  

“Four of us are coming for the protest in Phoenix,” Leonardo Segura, on strike at the refinery in Amarillo and vice president of USW Local 5613, told the Militant. “We’re getting a lot of support from the AFL-CIO and the community but not much support from elected officials in the area. We always have people drop off breakfast burritos, donuts and coffee.” 

Segura traveled over 700 miles with three other strikers to participate in the miners’ contingent at the Martin Luther King Day march and rally in Tucson Jan. 20.  

“We have inflation going on and we are still stuck at the same amount we were making 10 years ago,” Jason Goeke, a military veteran and single dad with three children who’s now on strike at the Mission Mine in Sahuarita, Arizona, told News 4 TV in Tucson Feb. 10. 

That day Rosie Lamey brought a pie to the picket line there. “It is the right thing to do. I feel that if we see a need, we need to do it. And they need food,” she told the TV crew. It is her third week bringing food to the miners. “I have done two different casseroles and I made sandwiches and Friday I am bringing out salmon.”  

Solidarity for the strike is crucial — and well deserved. The miners welcome supporters joining their picket lines, and to the dinners and movie nights they organize every week, as well as donations to their food pantry and strike fund.

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 Mission and Silver Bell mines near Tucson, send contributions to the Pima Area Labor Federation Community Services via paypal.me/palfcommunityservice. Solidarity messages to the strike can be sent via palfchair@gmail.com. For strikers at the Amarillo refinery, send to USW Local 5613, 4230 Texas Hwy 136, Amarillo, TX 79108.  

Ellie Garcia contributed to this article.