‘We still got a job to do in this strike,’ Asarco miners say

By Bernie Senter
April 27, 2020

“We’re still hanging in there — rolling with the punches,” Kevin Chiquete, chairman of United Steelworkers Local 915’s hardship committee and a diesel electric mechanic at the Ray Mine in Kearny, Arizona, told the   Militant  April 11. “We’ve still got a job to do in this strike and we keep our spirits up.”

For six months, 1,700 miners in Arizona and Amarillo, Texas, members of the Steelworkers, Teamsters and five other unions, have been standing up to copper giant Asarco’s drive to bust their unions.

The bosses are determined to extend the decadelong wage freeze for most workers, more than double health care premiums, and restrict the unions’ right to protect workers on the job.

Across the country the bosses and their government are taking advantage of the spread of coronavirus to atomize many workers, telling them they have to stay home. But copper mining is considered an “essential” industry.

“There’s a lot of people out of work in the area and the community has rallied around us. People still come by the picket line or the union hall and bring out food or lunch for us,” Chiquete said. “We help pay the bills for members on strike but we had to close down the food pantry for the time being because it was just too difficult to get grocery supplies.”

“We’ve limited the number of people on the picket line and at the union hall at any one time” at the Ray Mine, Chiquete said. And at the Hayden smelter pickets are also still up, but with less workers on the line.

“We’re still on strike, staying faithful to the union,” Debora Hewitt agreed in a phone interview April 11. Hewitt is a forklift operator at Asarco’s refinery in Amarillo, and a member of United Steelworkers Local 5613. “We have to stay strong.”

Hewitt said that picketing there has been suspended for a while in response to the Amarillo city government’s March 31 lockdown order, but “the union’s still getting out our food cards at the union hall or the picket shack.”

A similar decision to suspend picketing for now was made by the unions at the Mission and Silver Bell mines near Tucson.

Asarco has maintained some production with workers who crossed the picket line, replacement workers, nonunion contractors, and supervisors.

The company is owned by Grupo Mexico, one of the four largest copper producers in the world. It boasts having the “lowest extraction costs in the industry.” Their union-busting drive in the U.S. is designed to keep that competitive edge.

Send solidarity messages and donations 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 palfchair@gmail.com. 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.

Deborah Liatos contributed to this article.