Copper strikers are ‘holding the line’ against Asarco union busting

By Bernie Senter
May 4, 2020
Striking copper miners picket Asarco’s Ray Mine in Arizona.
Militant/Betsey StoneStriking copper miners picket Asarco’s Ray Mine in Arizona.

“Everyone is still into the strike and holding the line,” copper miner Robert Perez told the Militant by phone April 19. “We’re going to keep it up and hang in there.” Perez has worked for Asarco for 40 years and has been on strike along with 1,700 others for over six months. He is a crusher operator at the Ray Mine near Kearny, Arizona, and a member of United Steelworkers Local 915.

Steelworkers, Teamsters and five other unions are facing off against Asarco, which seeks to bust the unions. The company is owned by Grupo Mexico, one of the largest copper barons in the world.

With mines and production facilities in Arizona and Amarillo, Texas, Asarco is determined to extend a decadelong wage freeze for most workers, more than double health care costs, freeze pensions and restrict the unions’ right to protect workers on the job.

Nationwide the bosses and their government are taking advantage of the spread of coronavirus to atomize many workers and weaken their unions, telling them they have to stay home. But copper mining continues as an “essential” industry.

“Nothing’s changed for us. We’re still picketing,” Perez said. “Now with the virus thing we’re doing some social distancing.” Pickets are also up at the Hayden, Arizona, smelter but with less workers on the line.

While picket lines have been suspended for the time being at the Mission and Silver Bell mines and at Asarco’s refinery in Amarillo, “our guys are staying out on strike and the food pantry is open,” Alex Terrazas, president of Steelworkers Local 937 and a utility worker at the Mission Mine, told the Militant April 18. “Asarco is still hiring people right now, continuing to ramp up production.”

The worldwide capitalist economic crisis has reduced demand for copper and depressed prices, forcing other mining companies to reduce operations and lay off workers. But Asarco’s push on production is based on its drive to bust the unions.

Freeport-McMoRan — the world’s largest copper miner — shut its Chino Mine in southwestern New Mexico. This “may be just the tip of a looming iceberg of layoffs and furloughs throughout the company’s Arizona and New Mexico mining operations,” the Silver City Daily Press reported April 17.

Freeport’s mine in Morenci, Arizona, which it acquired from Phelps Dodge after bosses busted the unions there in a bitter strike in the early 1980s, is still operating. But the company says it’s preparing further “headcount changes.” It calls for workers to accept part-time hours, or unpaid leaves for up to a year.

Send solidarity messages and much needed 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 for Tucson-area strikers. Solidarity messages can be sent to 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.