The open pit at Asarco’s Mission Mine south of Tucson.

Courtesy of Asarco

The federal government is charging Tucson-based copper mining giant Asarco with unfair labor practices for its handling of negotiations with its Arizona employees for a new union contract.

The National Labor Relations Board accuses Asarco of “interfering with, restraining and coercing employees” who were exercising their rights to bargain.

It also says Asarco refused to bargain collectively with the United Steelworkers and seven other unions, which have represented nearly 2,000 Asarco employees since 2007.

Among the charges: Asarco is accused of unilaterally changing working conditions at two of its three Arizona facilities without first negotiating with unions over the changes.

The NLRB has ordered Asarco to file a written response to the charges by Nov. 13, and has set a Jan. 12 hearing in the case. Asarco vice president Tom Aldrich didn’t return a phone call or an email Wednesday seeking comment.

Asarco operates the Mission Mine in Sahuarita south of Tucson, the Silver Bell Mine in Marana and the Ray Mine in central Arizona, and a copper smelter in Hayden, which straddles Gila and Pinal counties.

The federal charges stem from an ongoing, bitter contract dispute between the company and unions in which both sides decided last summer to terminate their contract.

They had been in contact negotiations since June 2013 and the contract was terminated on June 20 of this year.

Details of the federal agency’s charges include:

  • In March and again in June, company officials interrogated employees at the Mission Mine and the company’s Hayden smelter about their union activity and the union activities of other employees, including questioning them about a union meeting and a potential strike.
  • About June 29, Asarco changed the schedules of some of its Hayden employees from 8-hour to 12-hour shifts. At the same time, the company eliminated the night shift for some of its Hayden employees.
  • On July 18, Asarco instituted a reduction in force at its Ray Mine in a manner contrary to the labor agreements it had with the unions, NLRB said. Because of that, one Ray employee didn’t receive six hours of wages she should have received for showing up for work, the NLRB said. These activities occurred without prior notice to the unions and without giving the unions an opportunity to bargain with Asarco over them, NLRB said.

Over the summer the unions had filed unfair labor practices charges against Asarco with the NLRB. Asarco responded by filing an NLRB complaint accusing the unions of bargaining in bad faith.