Two Unions, Two Countries, Building Stronger Bonds

2unions3Members of Los Mineros, which represents Grupo Mexico employees in Mexico, and USW members from the company’s five Asarco locations in the U.S. understand that the global mining conglomerate’s top management only cares about money and profit – to the detriment of its employees and the communities where we live and work.

For more than a year, Asarco/Grupo Mexico’s U.S. employees have been working under the terms of their previous agreement, subject to a 15-day notice for either side to terminate, while their negotiating committee struggles to fend off the company’s unfair demands for unnecessary economic and non-economic concessions.

2unions1In late July, activists from both unions participated in their first-ever cross-border training in Agua Prieta, Sonora, and followed up with a second week of meetings and training sessions in Tucson, Ariz. at the end of September.

In the classroom, participants brainstormed about the challenges of talking to people about unions, finding that many issues are the same on both sides of the border. The union members discussed building support and participation for future events and trainings by reaching out to members through the USW Next Generation and Women of Steel programs.

The activists talked about how to improve unions’ internal and external organizing techniques, as well as how to use the resources they developed during their July training sessions.

The workers also discussed Grupo Mexico’s recent toxic chemical spill at the former Cananea mine in Sonora, now called Buenavista, including how the pollution has contaminated the water of nearby communities, the company’s slow reaction to the disaster, the Mexican government’s paltry response and how the Mineros think the pollution will affect their communities in the future.

Grupo Mexico faces over $3 million (US) in fines and a cleanup liability of millions more after the catastrophic spill. According to the Mexican environmental protection agency, the company spilled massive amounts of copper sulfate solution into rivers near heavily populated areas. A special committee of the Mexican Congress has called for sanctions against the company, including possible cancellation of the operating permit for the mine.

At the end of their week of training, approximately 15 members each from the USW and Los Mineros reviewed the history of the labor movement in the Arizona Copper Basin with Professor Ericka Wills and toured the Asarco properties there, including the pit at Ray Mine along with the smelter and concentrator at Hayden.

2unions2United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard and General Secretary of Los Mineros Napoleon Gomez recognize the potential they have to build international solidarity and encourage their members to work together. Manny Armenta from the USW and Juan Linares from Los Mineros played important roles in establishing and building the program.

“Our unions have held an alliance for quite a while,” said District 12 Director, Robert LaVenture. “We took this opportunity to bring like-minded workers together to discuss like-minded ideas as we face a common employer, Grupo Mexico.”

“I was thrilled to see the number the participants who attended. I was encouraged to see the solidarity and honest discussions to solve our issues and I am excited to see what the future holds for this joint program,” said LaVenture.

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