The Associated Press
By ARTHUR H. ROTSTEIN
Associated Press Writer
The National Labor Relations Board will decide within the next few days whether Asarco LLC has engaged in an unfair labor practices strike or whether the ongoing walkout by copper workers is strictly economic in nature, an official said yesterday.
The board has determined that the company committed several labor violations against employees, including interrogating union members, withholding strikers’ accrued vacation benefits and engaging in surveillance of employees, said Gordon Jorgensen, assistant to the regional director in Phoenix.
Asarco’s labor unions initially had complained that the company was engaging in bad-faith bargaining, but the NLRB did not find any bad-faith bargaining on either side, he said.
Last month, the company filed to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Some 1,500 workers at five Asarco facilities in Arizona and one in Amarillo, Texas, remain on strike, with the key sticking point being insistence by union negotiators that the company provide a “successorship” clause committing any subsequent owner to honor any contract in effect.
Earlier, the company demanded a wage and pension freeze and additional contributions by workers for medical benefits, but more recently Asarco offered a one-year contract keeping all wages and benefits at prestrike levels.
Daniel Tellechea, Asarco’s president, said he was “caught by surprise” by Jorgensen’s statement. “We need to wait for the final decision. I’m not aware of any violations. I have been concentrating myself on operations, but I will find out,” he said.
Chief union negotiator Terry Bonds said he believes the violations that the NLRB found “are enough to make this an unfair labor practice… It’ll be a crying shame if it’s not, and it’ll be wrong.”
The successorship language is critical, Bonds said, because “we’ve got to protect the right of our members to protect their jobs if there is a sale of the properties. We’ve got that same language with many other companies. We’ve negotiated that language in conjunction with many bankruptcies.”
The labor board has not decided whether the practices of Asarco, a wholly owned subsidiary of Grupo Mexico, based in Mexico City, have prolonged the strike, Jorgensen said.
That decision will be critical to how the strike ultimately is resolved. If the board decides that the strike is solely economic, employees who are on strike could be permanently replaced, with the only recourse for strikers being placement on a preferential hiring list once the strike ends.
If, however, the board rules that the company committed unfair labor practices, even permanently replaced strikers would be entitled to get their jobs back once the strike ends.