Copper miners gain in new contract

TUCSON, Ariz. — Southwest copper miners won substantial economic gains and unprecedented job security provisions in a contract with ASARCO that covers approximately 1,600 hourly workers at five locations in Arizona and Texas.

A coalition of eight unions led by the United Steelworkers (USW) negotiated wage increases, a signing bonus and quarterly bonuses, a 20 percent increase in pension benefits and lower premiums with the same or better health benefits for retirees.

The contract also includes provisions for one to two union-nominated members on the board of directors when ASARCO emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and the right to veto the purchase of all or part of the company by any entity not willing to negotiate in good faith with the unions.

The agreement follows a 13-month contract extension which workers ratified after a 19-week strike in 2005. Negotiating team member Ian Robertson said that the striking workers “made an impression on the leadership of the company” and that the company knew the workers would strike again if necessary.

It is the policy of the USW to form international strategic alliances with unions which work in the same industries and for the same companies in other countries. One such alliance led to the Mexican miners union rallying in front of the Mexico City headquarters of ASARCO parent company Grupo Mexico during the 2005 strike.

Robertson stated that because of these international demonstrations, the company “knew we were out there; knew we had the support.” The tentative agreement, which combines several separate contracts, is awaiting ratification by union members and approval by a bankruptcy court.