Tucson-based copper miner Asarco LLC has lost another ruling in its fight to avoid paying copper-price bonuses to union workers.
But the new ruling by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals gives Asarco another chance to appeal, potentially further delaying payment of millions of dollars in disputed bonuses to more than 700 current and former Asarco workers represented by the United Steelworkers and seven other unions.
In June, a Ninth Circuit panel turned down Asarco’s appeal of lower-court rulings that it must pay bonuses based on the price of copper to workers hired after the company stopped offering a pension plan in mid-2011, rejecting the company’s contention that a federal arbitrator improperly required the payments.
In August, Asarco filed to have the ruling reviewed by a larger “en banc” panel of Ninth Circuit judges.
Last week, the original three-judge panel issued a new majority opinion upholding the lower court ruling, along with a new dissenting opinion.
According to the filing, Asarco may file a petition for a rehearing, or for an en banc review, in response to the new opinions, which could take months to decide.
On the line is more than $10 million, including interest, that the unions say is owed to workers under an agreement negotiated in 2010 and 2011.
The unions, which represent more than 2,000 hourly workers at five Asarco locations in Arizona and Texas, have been fighting for the quarterly bonuses since 2014, when an arbitrator ruled that the workers in question were inadvertently excluded from the bonus plan due to a “mutual mistake” by the company and the unions.
“Although management may attempt to further delay or postpone paying the millions of dollars it owes to them, we are committed to fighting for justice for these workers and their families,” United Steelworkers District 12 Director Bob LaVenture said in a prepared statement. “Asarco cannot hide forever, and its debts will only continue to grow until they are settled once and for all.”
Meanwhile, Asarco’s union employees are working without a current contract, after a 14-month collective bargaining agreement expired Nov. 30.
Last week, Asarco union employees voted to authorize a strike if negotiations fail.
Officials of Asarco, which is owned by mining giant Grupo Mexico, could not be reached for comment.
Asarco operates the Mission Mine in Sahuarita south of Tucson, the Silver Bell Mine in Marana, and the Ray Mine and Hayden smelter in Central Arizona.