ASARCO labor rally

Labor unions representing about 2,000 Asarco workers picketed amid contentious contract negotiations in 2015.

Unions representing about 2,000 hourly workers at five Asarco mining operations in Arizona and Texas voted overwhelmingly to strike against unfair labor practices, rejecting a final company offer in a vote on Friday.

Eight unions led by the United Steelworkers held meetings and strike-authorization votes this week after voting to authorize a strike earlier against Tucson-based Asarco, a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico.

Steelworkers District 12 Director Robert LaVenture said Asarco's four-year contract proposal "insulted union members at all of the facilities" by including no wage increase for nearly two-thirds of workers, freezing the existing pension plan, and more than doubling the out-of-pocket contribution individual workers already pay for health care.

After tallying votes late Friday, the Steelworkers provided a required 48 hours' notice to terminate the extension agreement under which the parties have worked since the last contract expired in December.

Picketing will begin simultaneously at Asarco's Arizona properties at 11 p.m. on Sunday and early Monday at its Amarillo, Texas, facility, the Steelworkers said in a news release.

In Arizona, Asarco operates the Mission Mine in Sahuarita, the Silver Bell Mine in Marana and the Ray Mine and Hayden smelter in Central Arizona.

"Working 12-hour shifts in an open-pit mine, smelter or refinery is difficult and dangerous, and ASARCO employees have not had a wage increase in 10 years," LaVenture said. "These workers deserve a contract that reflects their contributions."

LaVenture said that the union is willing to resume bargaining and ready to meet as long as necessary to negotiate a fair contract.

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Asarco officials could not be reached for comment.

In Arizona, Asarco operates the Mission Mine in Sahuarita, the Silver Bell Mine in Marana and the Ray Mine and Hayden smelter in Central Arizona.

Asarco filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005 amid a strike and more than $1 billion of asbestos and environmental claims.

Grupo Mexico, which had acquired Asarco in 1999, regained control of the company in 2009 after outbidding a rival for its assets in federal bankruptcy court.

After subsequent contracts covering Asarco workers in Arizona and Texas expired, the unions agreed to a 14-month contract in September 2017.

Reporter

David joined the Star in 1997, after working as a consumer and business reporter in Phoenix for more than a decade. A graduate of Ohio University, he has covered most business beats focusing on technology, defense and utilities. He has won several awards.