Unions Battle Retiree Health Benefit Cutoffs to Miners

September 12, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A labor coalition has taken to federal court its fight against a cutoff of health and prescription drug benefits to more than 900 retirees by copper miner Asarco Inc.

The United Steelworkers of America (USW) and other unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO filed suit in US District Court in Phoenix demanding Asarco rescind the move made last month, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

According to the paper, Asarco itself went into court in July seeking a judge’s permission to alter the retiree health and prescription drug benefits provided to affected former workers at the Mission and Silver Bell mines and the Hayden plant and smelter in Arizona, as well as workers in Texas.

A USW statement earlier this week quoted by the newspaper said Asarco had decided to unilaterally modify health insurance for the retirees, “contrary to long-standing labor agreements, decades of bargaining history between the company and its unions, and employee protection laws.” For its part, Asarco has argued that terms of the retirees’ health plan and prescription drug plan gave it the right to amend its plan unilaterally. The company, owned by number three copper miner Grupo Mexico, has been hit by slumping copper prices and lower sales and is struggling under a mountain of debt.