Miners rally for retirees

TUCSON, Ariz. – Hundreds of retired copper workers and their supporters rallied at the Federal Courthouse Sept. 8 to voice their outrage at ASARCO’s recent decision to unilaterally slash health insurance benefits for retired copper mine and smelter workers. ASARCO, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Grupo Mexico, has attacked its retirees by unlawfully modifying its health care plan, forcing them to pay as much as $5,000 per year in exorbitant premiums and deductibles.

Grupo Mexico is a complex of mining interests dominated by the billionaire Larrea family of Mexico City. The notorious union busting Phelps Dodge Corp. also has significant interests in Grupo Mexico.

The rally coincided with the filing of a federal class action legal complaint by the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) and other unions and individual retirees asking the court to declare the company in violation of its contractual and statutory obligations to employees. Leading the fight is the Solidarity Council for Justice, founded by eight union locals representing ASARCO/Grupo workers.

“It’s just one more screw in my back,” said Dick Cvitkovich, referring to the planned company take-backs. Cvitkovich, a disabled heavy equipment operator, rank-and-file activist, and union officer with the Operating Engineers, is a Vietnam veteran who worked for 30 years at ASARCO. “I gave them my body and they literally ruined it. And now, if the ... changes go through, my entire pension will be eaten up by additional insurance costs. They’re cheating me out of my retirement.”

Speaking in support of the retirees were Democratic state Sen. Pete Rios, Arizona AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Mike McGrath, and Arizona coordinator of Steelworker Organization of Active Retirees, Celestino Torres. “We are not going to let them steal our pensions,” Torres said.

Robert Manriquez, president of USWA Local 5252 at ASARCO’s Ray mining and smelting complex, stressed the importance of the support the retirees have received from younger workers. “We’re all in this together,” he said.

Solidarity Council leaders announced an international “Campaign for Justice” to demand that ASARCO and Grupo Mexico rescind the decision.

“I’ve just returned from Mexico,” said USWA District 12 Sub-director Manny Armenta. “There I spoke with union leaders from ASARCO/Grupo unions in Mexico and Peru. We all agreed that we have problems with these companies.”

The author can be reached at stelnik@webtv.net