Four Month Strike Ends In Victory At ASARCO
November 29, 2005
After four months on strike, members of eight unions, including IBEW, at Asarco's copper mines, smelter and refineries in the Southwest have returned to work, defeating the bankrupt company's threat to void labor contracts and impose massive wage and benefit cuts.
A 13-month agreement, negotiated between Asarco and the unions, will continue wages and benefits under the previous contract which expired June 30. The new agreement includes important successorship language and an agreement from Asarco not to petition the bankruptcy court to void its labor or pension agreements.
Workers at two Arizona Asarco facilities walked out on June 30 at the expiration of their contract. They were joined by employees at three other facilities in Arizona and one in Amarillo, Texas, who had worked without a contract since July of 2004.
When Asarco declared bankruptcy in early August, six weeks into the strike, corporate managers hoped that the workers would be overwhelmed by fear.
Instead, Asarco unions, including IBEW members of Tucson, Arizona Local 570, Globe, Arizona Local 518 and Amarillo, Texas Local 602, formed an even tighter bond with fellow union members. They had previously united to form the Solidarity Council for Justice, and publish a newsletter, The Rumble.
Strong community, governmental and labor support lifted the strikers' spirits. Coverage in local newspapers was mostly favorable to the unions.
An IBEW signatory contractor which performs maintenance at some Asarco facilities, refused to send workers across the picket lines. "They asked why they should help Asarco," says Mike Verbout, assistant business manager of Local 570, "when Asarco had made them wait so long to get paid for jobs that they have completed."
Among the strike's supporters were Asarco retirees, already under attack from their former employer. The January/February 2005 issue of IBEW Journal reported on Asarco's moves to sue union retirees in a brazen attempt to increase the cost of their medical coverage while radically lowering benefit levels.
See IBEW Journal Article: Unions Sue Asarco Inc. Over
Asarco is a subsidiary of Mexican copper giant Grupo Mexico, which has extracted assets and profits from the firm, putting jobs and the future of entire communities in jeopardy, despite a healthy increase in the worldwide price for copper.
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