“We’re on the picket line standing up to violations and abuse of workers and the environment by Asarco,” Eduardo Placencio, recording secretary of striking United Steelworkers Local 937 at the Mission Mine south of Tucson, told the Militant by phone March 8. Over 1,700 copper miners have been on strike for five months in Arizona and Texas.
The strike was provoked by bosses demanding another four-year wage freeze after 10 years without a pay raise, plus doubling or nearly tripling health care costs, freezing pensions and restricting the unions’ right to protect workers on the job. “People understand why we’re on strike,” Placencio said.
Miners have kept picket lines up 24/7 while the bosses have continued production at three surface mines in Arizona — Mission, Ray and Silver Bell — using newly hired strikebreakers, nonunion contractors, supervisors and around 300 workers who have crossed the picket line.
An important part of the fight by the copper workers is for safety in the mines, an issue of pressing concern highlighted by things that have happened as the company drives to keep some production going during the strike. The United Steelworkers Solidarity News reported there was a fire at the Mission Mine Feb. 19 with over 15 emergency vehicles responding.
“Toxic chemical releases from Arizona’s industries rose 70% in 2018 from 2017,” reported the Feb. 29 Arizona Daily Star. “Eight of Arizona’s top 10 ranked releases in 2018 came from copper mines and smelters.”
Tailings — the rock dust left over from mining and processing copper — contain materials that can be highly toxic, especially dangerous when they’re blown around by the wind and are breathed in.
The article noted that the release of toxic materials from Asarco’s Tucson-area mines “via tailings and waste rock disposal were, at more than 8 million pounds, more than four times greater than in 2010.”
Asarco “considers its profits more important than human life,” Placencio said. “At the Mission Mine, the EPA has been notified because winds have stirred up the mountains of tailings. Asarco doesn’t have the workforce to take on the task of maintaining it, something we did regularly as part of our job before the strike.”
Asarco is owned by Grupo Mexico, one of the world’s largest copper producers. The company refuses to negotiate with the unions. The seven striking unions at the copper mines have organized food pantries at the union halls, protests at corporate offices and industry conferences, and weekly public dinners and movie nights at the strike line. Many miners have gotten other jobs to make ends meet while continuing their picket duties. In doing so they’ve learned firsthand about working conditions when there is no union.
Asarco bosses have aimed to bust the unions from the beginning. They’ve been aided by a virtual blackout of the strike in the big business press.
In a case filed before the National Labor Relations Board, Asarco is pressing to decertify USW Local 937 as the union representing workers at the Silver Bell Mine in Marana, Arizona, the smallest of the company’s operations. The company claims only the 11 workers on strike are union members. Nearly 150 workers are employed there and Asarco says over 90% have crossed the picket line.
The board’s regional director postponed ruling on the company’s case until the union’s unfair labor practice charges filed against Asarco have been decided. Asarco demands the NLRB conduct an immediate review of its call for decertification of the union.
To counter these attacks, solidarity, donations to the strike fund and messages of support are crucial. Send financial contributions and solidarity messages to USW Local 915 Strike Assistance, P.O. Box 550, Kearny, AZ 85137; USW Local 5252 Strike Assistance, P.O. Box 896, Kearny, AZ 85137; USW Local 5613, 4230 Texas Hwy 136, Amarillo, TX 79108; or via paypal.me/palfcommunityservice for Tucson-area strikers. Solidarity messages can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contribute to the food pantries at: USW 915 and 886 hall, 107 Hammond Dr., Kearny; IBEW Local 570 hall, 750 S. Tucson Blvd., Tucson; USW Local 5613, 4230 Texas Hwy 136, Amarillo, Texas.