As the ASARCO Miners’ Strike in Texas and Arizona entered its fourth month, Snehal Shingavi spoke with Eduardo Placencio of USW Local 937 about the strike, its stakes and what lies ahead. For more about the strike and ways to support, visit our Call for Collections.
What led to the strike?
The unfair labor practices and changes to the copper bonus, the bonus that we are entitled to – they wanted to tag it to attendance and production, and a lot of those things about production are not in our control. The deductible for health insurance is going up 300% for families – something like $400 a month. They want to freeze the defined pension that we have right now. The workers hired before 2011 have a pension, but the ones hired after do not.
Can you describe what it’s like to organize and work for ASARCO?
When it comes to working on property, one of the things we have is neutrality and a working relationship with the company – we want to work on production but safety is our number 1 priority. When it comes to working the problems out, the company is very negative. There is a lot of negativity when it comes to figuring out a solution to the problem. Even though there is a process to come to a study or a conclusion, they like to do everything they can to give people a hard time. This is a part of who they are – very disrespectful. They treat us like we are problems.
What about negotiations with management?
We had one negotiation on November 14, the company is basically stuck on their “last, best, and final offer” – they presented it and they walked.
Tell me about the Unfair Labor Practices.
The majority of the ULPs have been filed with the NLRB. The management refuses to bargain in good faith. The contract pits workers against each other, especially the demands on production. We went on strike on October 13 and when that happened, we had to make the call, because they had backed us into a corner when it came to negotiations. Their contract will be in effect come February. Scabs that crossed the picket line are covered by the last, best, final contract. 62% of the workforce has not seen a wage increase. The remaining workers only got pocket change. That comes to a three-dollar an hour loss for every worker.
Successorship [extending the contract to any entity that buys the company] would be completely removed from the contract. We know the history of this: union-busting, anti-union. Safety and Accidents – they will compensate you $475 a week, maybe after taxes you have $600 every two weeks … half of what you would be making if you were healthy. You used to get 36 months to heal – but they want to cut that back to 12 months! We are copper miners, we age faster than others because of the conditions of the work, the air you breathe, all of it. You have health issues sooner. And they want to drive people out of the job—and they use this as a reason to get you to quit. You are forced back to work faster, before you are healthy.
Everything right now depends on the administrative law judge looking at the evidence and the case. We are in a stronger position than we were in at the beginning of the strike. We have to use the law to advance our cause. The likelihood of them coming back to the table is very high.
Can you talk about the laws that ASARCO is breaking?
In my opinion when you have oversight in the union contract, you have better protections for the environment, better protections for the workers, better relations with environmental groups. Corporations break laws because they value their profits over real people, and this is done in every country. Mexico had one of the worst environmental disasters in 2014 when the mine in Caneneja; millions of tons of Sulphuric acid flowed down in to Rio Sonora. Los mineros are one of our biggest allies—Napoleon Gomez Urrutia is their general secretary and he has led the fight against Grupo Mexico. MSHA (mine safety and health) – we are audited twice a year. The company is required to do these audits by federal law. We are the ones who run the facility, because we work there. But the company is obligated to fix any problem that they do find, and to make sure that any accidents or deaths that have happened are dealt with, especially any safety issues that might affect the workers. They have to comply with the federal laws. Just having the union there, versus a non-union shop, you are still going to have accidents, because these do happen. And hundreds used to die in the 1970s. It’s crucial to have the union there to hold the company accountable, having the union there is so crucial.
Can you talk about the demographics of the strike?
The strikers are more Latino at Silverbell and Mission and Kearney. There is a member who is on the DACA program. There is a member whose wife is on the DACA program. They are at risk of deportations if they lose their status. We have members who were born in Mexico and have been here for years. When SB 1070 came into play here, one of the managers from Grupo Mexico was deported. So this is an issue that our community and union deal with.
Anything you’d like to add?
I want to send you the addresses of the picket lines: you know about Amarillo in Texas. We need donations, we need firewood, food, diapers, anything and everything. We have five active strike lines. We have a pantry in Kearney and one in Tucson. We are running a pantry out of the union hall in Amarillo. People should go out and visit and talk to the guys on the line and build that partnership with the guys on the line and the community. Kearney, Hayden, Marana, and Sahuarita are the picket lines in AZ.
To support ASARCO workers like Eduardo on strike, please donate to the USW’s strike fund here.