The Phelps Dodge Corporation will shut down its Morenci, Ariz., copper smelter Jan. 5, idling about 450 workers who have kept the operation going during a bitter, 17-month strike by the United Steel Workers and 12 other unions against the copper company.
The closing announcement, made Christmas Eve, stunned those directly affected. But it was hailed by strikers as ''the best Christmas present ever received from Phelps Dodge.'' They said it indicates that the walkout may force the company to shut down other operations until ''eventually everything will be closed down, and we'll get a contract,'' a union spokesman said.
Phelps Dodge said the shutdown was brought on not by the labor dispute but by continuing high costs of complying with government antipollution regulations.