Workers Struggles: The Americas

29 December 1998

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Latin America

North America

Latin America

Strikebreaking against Mexican copper miners

Grupo Mexico, the copper mining giant, has not come to an agreement with miners as the strike at the Cananea mine in the northern state of Sonora enters its second month. The 2,100 members of the Miners and Metallurgical Workers Union of Mexico Local 65 struck November 20 over the company's refusal to give workers 5 percent of company stock, as agreed upon in the 1990 privatization agreement. The stock's value amounts to some $19.5 million, according to the union.

As temperatures have fallen in the region, the utility companies have shut off gas and electricity to striking miners for nonpayment. Grupo Mexico has further shut down construction operations with some of the 15 companies that perform work at the mine. One company, Constructora Mexico, was forced to lay off 500 employees.

"This consortium has threatened workers with knives and clubs," said Alejandro Mange Ruiz, a member of Local 65's executive board. Miners have been demonstrating along the US-Mexican border crossings of Nogales, Naco and Agua Prieta.

According to industry analysts, Grupo Mexico is expected to be able to keep smelter operations going for more than two months despite the loss of production from the Cananea mine. This is due to continuing production at its other Sonora copper mine, La Caridad, which is one of the largest in North America. "We do not expect any solution until next year," declared Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. "Grupo Mexico is not particularly being hurt by this event."

Sixty-five dead and injured in Colombian gas pipeline explosion

A gas pipeline explosion killed at least 15 and injured another 50 in the northern Colombian town of Piedra de Arroyo. The 26-inch pipeline ran underground through the center of the town of some 5,000 inhabitants. Thirty-five houses were reduced to rubble and rescue workers continued to look for more victims among the wreckage.

The Piedra de Arroyo gas pipeline was part of a domestic gas network operated by Promigas, the leading gas distributor on Colombia's Caribbean coast and a unit of Enron Corp. of the United States.

North America

TWA flight attendants stage "sick-out"

US District Judge Nina Gershon in New York issued a temporary restraining order December 24 to end a "sick-out" by TWA flight attendants. A large number of attendants called in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day forcing TWA to cancel three to four dozen flights each day. Several hundred passengers had to be quartered overnight in hotel rooms when other flights could not be substituted for TWA's cancellations.

The court order instructed the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, (IAM) which represents the flight attendants, to force workers back to their jobs. The IAM's flight attendant hotline said each flight attendant must comply to the order. Under federal law airline workers do not have the right to strike without an impasse being declared by a mediator. By December 26 the number of sick calls dropped off, but another two dozen flights still had to be cancelled.

The IAM represents 16,200 TWA mechanics, flight attendants and other workers. Negotiations have dragged on since mid-1997 without progress and were not expected to resume until mid-January. Workers have provided pay and benefit cuts over the years to maintain the struggling airline, which has not shown a profit since 1988. In an effort to recover lost ground the flight attendants are demanding a 38.55 percent pay increase as opposed to TWA's offer of 21.6 percent.

New Jersey teachers strike

Classes for 1,000 special needs students in Mercer County were suspended when teachers and staff struck December 23. The union has been working without a contract since June. The school district has indicated it will seek a back-to-work order if the walkout persists after the Christmas holiday.

New York Pops musicians end strike

Freelance orchestra musicians ended their four-day strike against the New York Pops December 22 and settled for a 16 percent wage increase. The strike forced the Pops to cancel two performances at Carnegie Hall. Members of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York Local 802 struck demanding a 30 percent increase after management put forward a wage offer amounting to a 13 percent increase. The settlement allows the New York Pops to go forward with a scheduled tour of Japan that embarks December 28.

New offer in Arkansas factory workers strike

Striking employees of Polar Stainless Products Plant in Searcy, Arkansas may vote on a new offer December 28. Some 270 workers struck one week before Christmas demanding better pay and working conditions and charging the company was uninterested in bargaining in good faith.

Detroit-area GM plant to idle 1,200 workers

One-third of the hourly work force, or 1,200 workers, at General Motors Corporation's assembly plant in Orion Township, Michigan will be put on indefinite layoff into next summer. The layoffs of second-shift workers at the suburban Detroit plant result from the discontinued production of two vehicle lines--the Buick Riviera and the Oldsmobile 88. The layoffs will not become official until January 4, according to a company spokesperson.

Boeing to cut jobs in Canada

Beoing Co. plans to lay off as many as 1,900 of its 4,100 Canadian workers over the next two years. The Seattle-based aircraft company has told workers it expects to cut up to 300 of its 1,600 jobs in Winnepeg and 160 of the 790 jobs in Arnprior, west of Ottawa, over the next two years. About 1,400 additional layoffs, announced last summer, will occur in Mississauga, Ontario.