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Trump Labor Board Could Determine Outcome Of Monthslong Amarillo Copper Strike

Xstrata Technology/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Stainless steel cathode starter sheets for copper refining. Members of the local United Steel Workers union are protesting changes in benefits at the ASARCO copper refinery in Amarillo.

From Texas Standard:

Copper workers in Amarillo have been striking for four months and will likely continue. About 150 union members are protesting ASARCO's plan to freeze pensions and increase health insurance costs.

Gus Bova has been reporting about the strike for the Texas Observer. He says ASARCO is owned by the Mexican conglomerate Grupo México, which is owned by Mexico's second-richest man. Based on Bova's reporting, ASARCO appears to be cutting benefits in order to cut costs even though it's a profitable company. ASARCO didn't respond to his request for comment.

Bova says this strike is notable because it's gone on so long.

"This is just a very intractable dispute," he says.

Fifteen-hundred ASARCO workers in Arizona are also striking.

Bova says the company wants to cut costs at the same time the union is asking for raises. ASARCO workers haven't had a raise in almost 11 years.

The company could threaten to close the refinery if the strike continues, but Bova says that wouldn't make sense, at least from a financial standpoint, because of ASARCO's profitability. Based on a financial presentation he saw, Bova says ASARCO doesn't appear to be cutting benefits because it's in financial trouble.

Now, the National Labor Relations Board could determine whether the union is striking because of unfair labor practices or just to secure higher pay. If their strike is found to be the latter – an "economic strike" – ASARCO can hire new workers to replace the ones on strike.

"Right now, it's a bit of a holding pattern until that board weighs in," Bova says. "And this is a Trump labor board, right? So there's reason to think they could rule against the union."

Written by Caroline Covington.

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