Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Major labor problems on mines plague Mexico

Including one in Cananea, 170 miles from Tucson

MEXICO CITY – A major labor dispute threatened to break out on the eve of President Obama’s visit to Mexico, as union protesters blockaded a port after the government authorized the firing of workers at the country’s largest copper mine.

In a decision announced Wednesday, a federal labor arbitration board gave Grupo Mexico SAB the green light to dismiss workers who have been on strike at Cananea and two other mines since July 2007.

Angry union employees blocked shipping facilities in the Pacific port city of Lazaro Cardenas, where the miners’ syndicate also represents workers at a nearby steel plant.

The union said no shipments were being allowed in or out, but a port employee who was not authorized to be quoted by name said only one gate was affected and cargo was still moving through.

Striking miners at Cananea are seeking a 10 percent pay raise and improved health and safety conditions. They are also demanding the government recognize their organization’s secretary-general, who fled to Canada after being charged with misappropriation of funds in 2006. The union denies the charges.

All but 300 of the mine’s 1,600 workers are union, and Grupo Mexico says the stoppage has made the mine “impossible to operate.” The company complained that the mine has suffered serious deterioration during the nearly two-year-old strike.

The arbitration board agreed. It ordered Grupo Mexico to pay any fired workers three months’ salary plus 12 days’ pay for each year of employment.

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