ASARCO strike possibility remains; Ninth Circuit rejects re-hearing

The new year began with the possibility of a strike against ASARCO, in light of ongoing contract issues, including withholding of copper price bonuses since 2011.

On Tuesday, Jan. 8, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 886, in Hayden, posted on its Facebook page that the union and the company had not met since Dec. 13, 2018.

While the union requested dates from ASARCO to continue negotiations, the company had yet to respond, it said.

“We are still working under the current agreement on a day-to-day basis with 48 hours’ notice to terminate,” the Jan. 8 post stated. “The company has an obligation to meet with the union and should do so immediately.”

On Dec. 3, 2018, strike authorization meetings were held in Amarillo, Texas, as well as Kearny/Hayden and Tucson.

In the Facebook post, the union told its members they had spoken “loud and clear” at the meetings to authorize its bargaining committee to call a strike when necessary.

The union instructed its members to continue to report to work until told otherwise.

“We will stand together until we get a fair contract,” the Dec. 3 post stated.

With a contract set to expire at midnight Nov. 30, 2018, the bargaining committee made “excellent progress” in prior weeks, negotiating updates to local supplemental agreements.

Unfortunately, ASARCO repeatedly said it was not ready to make a full proposal on the basic labor agreement until that week, according to the union’s Nov. 28 post.

On Nov. 27, the company gave the union a non-economic proposal, even though it had promised an economic one, as well.

After not receiving the economic proposal, the union held its three Dec. 3 strike meetings.

“Clearly, the company isn’t taking us seriously,” the union’s Nov. 28 post stated.

Ninth Circuit Court Jan. 10 decision

In its Jan. 10 press release, the union announced that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected ASARCO’s petition, which sought another re-hearing of its decision that the company must pay a copper price bonus to hundreds of workers it hired after June 30, 2011.

“The Ninth Circuit has rejected the company’s petition for a second rehearing,” said Anthony C. “Tony” Montana, with United Steelworkers Communications, in Pittsburgh.

The appellate court granted ASARCO’s first petition for a rehearing after the June 19,2018 decision, he told the Silver Belt.

“After rehearing it, the Ninth Circuit withdrew the June 19 decision, but issued a very similar decision on Dec. 4 (2018), maintaining that the arbitrator's December 2014 decision was correct and proper,” Montana said.

The appellate court also affirmed Judge Stephen M. McNamee’s March 3, 2016 decision enforcing an arbitrator’s order for ASARCO to pay millions of dollars, along with the continuously-accruing post-judgment interest.

On Thursday, Jan. 10, the Ninth Circuit turned down the opportunity to hear the case a third time.

“So, if ASARCO wants to continue this case, they will need to petition the Supreme Court,” Montana said.

Eight international unions, representing more than 2,000 hourly workers at five ASARCO locations in Arizona and Texas, have fought to collect the award since December 2014, when an arbitrator originally determined that ASARCO had wrongly withheld from its newer employees quarterly bonuses based on copper prices, the Jan. 10 statement said.

On June 19, 2018, the Ninth Circuit’s three-judge panel had issued its first decision affirming McNamee’s order to enforce the arbitrator’s award, which ASARCO challenged.

USW District 12 Director Bob LaVenture said that ASARCO’s attempt to divide union membership by withholding bonus payments from newer hires had backfired, instead uniting workers in solidarity within and between ASARCO locations.

“Our struggle for fairness and justice for all ASARCO employees did not begin and will not end in court,” he said in the Jan. 10 statement. “It begins and ends with workers joining together to force management to respect our unions and obey our contract.”

The appellate court ruled twice in favor of the union, after hearing arguments in the case on Nov. 16, 2017.

While ASARCO’s management may attempt to further delay or postpone paying the millions it has owed for years, “we are committed to fighting for justice for these workers and their families,” LaVenture said.

“ASARCO’s debts will only continue to grow until they are settled once and for all, and time is running out,” he said in the Jan. 10 statement.

ASARCO officials declined comment Monday, Jan. 28 after several attempts from the Silver Belt.


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