The workers at ASARCO, in Arizona and Texas, have been out on strike for close to four months. Represented by United Steelworkers local 937 and local 5613, they have been resisting an employer’s onslaught bravely, and largely by relying on their own resources, fortitude, and conviction.
ASARCO precipitated the strike when the contract negotiations broke down. ASARCO insultingly offered no wage increases, a freeze on the pension plan, and a more-than-doubling of the individual contribution to health care. ASARCO employees, importantly, have not had a wage increase in a decade, despite the fact that copper mining and refining is a vastly profitable industry. The industry claimed more than $500 million in revenues at least through fiscal year 2018. ASARCO is a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico, the third largest copper producer in the world. Their profits in 2018 were $1.3 billion and from all accounts the profits in 2019 were even greater.
The bosses additionally want to get rid of a neutrality agreement that allows the union the right to organize and speak with prospective members about the union. This is union-busting 101.
In 2018, a federal court ruled that ASARCO had cheated workers out of unpaid bonuses totaling more than $10 million. They still haven’t paid those workers back in full (a partial payment was doled out in November). Grupo Mexico is a serial offender: in 2014, the company released 11 million tons of toxic waste into Sonoran waterways in Mexico.
The strike that started on October 13th has not only demonstrated the resolve of the workers, but also laid bare the callousness of management. As the UK Guardian reported one worker’s experience: “I’ve been doing almost twice the work because they haven’t been hiring people for four to five years. I work in the pump shop. We went from having 13 guys doing pump work, and it went down to maybe two to three guys working on pumps,” said Gilbert Angula, who has worked at Asarco for 29 years. “We’re doing twice as much work and we haven’t had a raise for 10 years.”
Another employee commented: “We’re not getting paid what we should to work this kind of job in this kind of environment. Your life’s on the line every time you walk through that gate to the mine. You can be killed or maimed for life,” added Michael Blake (mechanic at ASARCO in Sahuarita, AZ). “They don’t care about the employees, they just want their money and they will do everything it takes to ensure production is prioritized over safety.”
Another employee remarked: “It’s tough because I have a child in daycare, prices for daycare are going up, the price of insurance is going up, groceries are going up, and so to be stuck with no wage increase for 10 years, it makes it impossible to get by,” Alex Terrazas (ASARCO employee for 13 years) said.
This is why Section 44 is hoping that you will contribute to the strike fund by giving what you can through the USW’s solidarity fund here. The funds will go directly into the union’s strike fund and will support workers who are clearly fighting an important fight.