Striking workers pose for a picture on a picket line outside an Asarco facilty in Hayden. Workers have been out since Oct. 12, but union officials said contract negotiations are set to resume Nov. 14. (Photo courtesy United Steelworkers Local 886)
Asarco, striking workers set to resume contract talks in two weeks
Striking Asarco workers say contract talks with management have been set for Nov. 14, a month after close to 1,800 workers walked off job sites and onto picket lines at facilities in Arizona and Texas.
An official with United Steelworkers said he does not expect Asarco to bring “anything radically different” to the bargaining table than the last offer union members rejected, but he expects the company to listen to workers.
“We do expect the employer to honor its obligation under federal law to negotiate in good faith with us, and we are willing to stay at the table as long as it takes,” said USW District 12 Director Bob LaVenture said in a news release.
The announcement comes the same week that striking workers stopped getting paychecks and benefits from the copper mining, smelting and refining company.
Asarco did not return repeated calls for comment on the strike or the prospect of negotiations. But union officials have said they are pushing for better wages and return of unpaid bonuses.
More than 1,775 union members across Arizona and Texas have been striking since Oct. 11 after the majority of them “overwhelmingly rejected” Asarco’s “last, best and final offer,” according to a statement from the steelworkers union.
With the strike now in its third week, and with paychecks and benefits ending for now, unions and local businesses have pooled resources to help strikers pay for medical bills, make rent or feed their families.
One of those businesses is Maria’s Cafe. Even though it is about 20 miles away from Asarco’s Hayden facilities, the cafe has handed out breakfast burritos to strikers in the area, said Maria Garcia, the owner’s daughter and a restaurant employee.
Garcia said the cafe, based in Mammoth, plans to show solidarity with workers by handing out more meals as the strike continues.
“Some of them are on strike, they don’t have enough money or don’t want to spend money to buy some food when they need to pay bills,” Garcia said.
She described the strike as a “community effort,” despite members having a “rough time of it” along the picket lines.
“It’s more of a community thing, trying to motivate them to continue this,” she said.
The strike is the latest in years of fights between Asarco and its unions since a 2011 contract lowered pensions for workers and cut new employees out of “copper bonuses,” or extra funds based on the price of copper. Court records say the bonuses could be worth up to $8,000 a year per worker. Unions claim the company may now owe a total of up to $10 million in back bonuses.
An arbitrator let Asarco – which emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 – keep the pension concessions from the 2011 contract but ordered it to pay workers their bonuses. The company challenged that ruling in court, but lost repeatedly. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld the arbitrator’s ruling earlier this month when it let stand lower court decisions.
Union members claimed the latest contract, a 2018 extension of a 2017 deal with Asarco, lowered benefits and froze wages for another four years. They said that offer “insulted” workers, who rejected the contract and went on strike over the weekend of Oct. 12 at Asarco locations Amarillo, Texas, and in Kearny, Marana, Sahuarita and Hayden in Arizona.
Union officials said their members will continue striking until a new contract is negotiated. But Karla Schumann, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 104, welcomed the news that a new round of negotiations would begin soon.
“We remain committed to ensure a fair contract will be achieved for all unions working at Asarco,” she said in a news release.
Story by Kailey Broussard, Cronkite News