Executive Council Statement | Global Worker Rights

Supporting Striking Cananea Miners, Sonora River Residents and the United Steelworkers

Members of the Mexican Miners Union (Los Mineros) Section 65 in Cananea, Sonora, went on strike in 2007 against conditions that endangered their lives, and against the effort by their employer, Grupo México/ASARCO, to destroy their union.

Grupo México and the Mexican government violated international standards and Mexico’s own labor law to declare the strike illegal, and then to reopen the Cananea copper mine using strikebreakers from the Mexican Workers’ Confederation (known by its Spanish acronym CTM). The mishandling of critical operations at the mine by strikebreakers led to a catastrophic spill of toxic chemical waste into the Sonora River, and the contamination of the river led to immense physical harm to the people in the towns along the river, destroying their ability to farm and earn a living.

Grupo México and the Mexican government have refused to negotiate an end to the strike, preventing the experienced members of Section 65 from returning to their jobs. They have failed to clean up the river, remedy the environmental damage and compensate the families for the loss of their livelihood.

Grupo México and its affiliate ASARCO have been in bargaining with the United Steelworkers, which represents miners and smelter workers in the United States, but have refused to agree to a fair contract for those workers. The USW represents bargaining units of ASARCO employees at the Mission Mine Complex in Sahuarita, Arizona, where ASARCO operates a copper mine, concentrator and SXEW plant; the Silver Bell Mine in Tucson, Arizona, where ASARCO operates a copper mine and SXEW plant; the Ray Mine and concentrator in Kearny, Arizona; the concentrator and smelter in Hayden, Arizona; and a refinery in Amarillo, Texas.

In addition, Mineros Union President Napoleón Gómez Urrutia has accused Grupo México of “industrial homicide” because it refused to continue rescue efforts for 65 coal miners trapped by an explosion in the Pasta de Conchos mine after only three days. Because of this accusation, Napoleón Gómez was forced to leave Mexico to escape illegal imprisonment.

The AFL-CIO supports Los Mineros in the long strike against Grupo México at the Cananea mine, the families living along the Sonora River and the United Steelworkers in the effort to achieve a fair contract for its members. The AFL-CIO calls on Grupo México to agree to a fair contract with Los Mineros, returning the members of Section 65 to their jobs; provide adequate care and compensation to the families and communities affected by the toxic spill at the Cananea mine; completely clean up the Sonora River; and agree to a fair contract with the United Steelworkers at its ASARCO operations in the United States.

The AFL-CIO also will communicate with our congressional representatives and with the Obama administration, and ask them to meet with the Mexican government to seek resolution of the illegal and immoral actions of Grupo México. We will support efforts to bring substantial material aid to the miners in Cananea and the towns along the Sonora River because of the danger of widespread hunger and suffering.