Open pit mine near Green Valley.
Open pit mine near Green Valley.

A group of Arizona mine workers returned to the picket lines on Tuesday, marking the second day of what could be a drawn out labor dispute.

The strike comes after the United Steelworkers Union and seven other unions representing about 2,000 hourly workers at five Asarco mining operations in Arizona and Texas voted to authorize a strike on Friday.

The unions cited unfair labor practices by Tucson-based Asarco, a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico, and said Asarco’s four-year contract proposal “insulted” union members because it didn’t include a pay raise for nearly two-thirds of workers, froze the existing pension plan, and more than doubled the out-of pocket contribution individual workers already pay for health care.

“We’ve been in negotiations for over a year now trying to make some sense about this and try to get a fair agreement,” Manny Armenta, a United Steelworkers Union Spokesman, told KOLD News 13. “This is a last resort, we don’t like going on the strike but we get pushed against the wall we are going to take action and we did.”

Armenta said the workers had not seen a wage increase in 10 years and would not return to work until something was done about their contracts. 

As a result workers have taken to the picket lines at Asarco’s four Arizona facilities — 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,” Steelworkers District 12 Director Robert LaVenture told Tucson.com. “These workers deserve a contract that reflects their contributions.”

The strike is the latest in a wave of labor action in Arizona. Just last week, staffers at the Arizona Republic overwhelmingly voted to unionize ahead of a merger between the Republic’s owner, Gannett, and GateHouse Media. In September, nurses at two Tucson-area hospitals went on strike to push for hospital administration to provide more resources to nursing staff and patient care.

It’s unclear how long the mine workers’ strike will last, but Armenta told KOLD News 13 the union is ready to start negotiating as soon as officials make a reasonable offer.