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Ousted union continues Phelps Dodge fight; copper layoffs grow

Copper workers at the Phelps Dodge Corporation are continuing their 20-month strike for a new contract, supported by the AFL-CIO and its unions, even though their walkout -- and their jobs -- apparently are lost. Members of the United Steel Workers in Arizona say they're not leaving. Although the unions have lost bargaining rights and the workers have been discharged, the strike will continue, union president Lynn Williams says, ``until an honorable settlement is reached.''

As far as Phelps Dodge is concerned, the walkout is over. Company officials now consider the picket line at the gate to be informational in nature and no longer a strike.

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National Labor Relations Board elections to decertify the steel union and satellite unions resulted in a top-heavy 1,908-to-87 vote against being represented by the unions. The elections in January are being contested because strikers, off the job since July 1983, were not allowed to vote. Phelps Dodge has maintained operations using replacements and union members who have returned to their jobs.

Meanwhile, copper workers employed by other companies are running into problems of a different kind, as deteriorating economic conditions have caused the closing of an Asarco Copper smelter in Ruston, Wash., idling hundreds, and of Kennecott Corporation's copper division in Utah, with 2,200 layoffs scheduled by September.

The 96-year-old Asarco smelter closed permanently. More than 500 workers face a scramble for the few jobs available in the area, most at lower pay. The Kennecott operations, while closed indefinitely, are expected to reopen if problems of ``adverse marketing conditions, high labor costs, and antiquated facilities'' can be overcome, the company says.

Efforts to control labor costs and to become more competitive in domestic and foreign copper markets led Phelps Dodge to reject contract terms accepted by other companies in the industry. It told unions that its costs already were tops in the industry; it sought parity.

In striking, the steel union and other unions bargaining jointly blamed ``corporate greed'' for the Phelps Dodge bargaining position, and as it continued operating, the unions said they were fighting ``union busting'' by an anti-labor employer.

In continuing the struggle, the steel union's Mr. Williams says Phelps Dodge will be opposed ``in every arena available, from picket lines to banks and other financial institutions and corporate board rooms.''

The union has already taken its fight to Wall Street, urging union pension funds to refuse to invest in Phelps Dodge.

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ALF-CIO president Lane Kirkland told a strike rally held in the federation headquarters building in Washington recently that the AFL-CIO -- and all of organized labor -- ``will stand shoulder to shoulder with our Phelps Dodge brothers and sisters as long as it takes to win. . . . This is a fight against union busting. Every trade unionist in the country must be a part of it.''

The rally was called to preview a 15-minute video documentary on the strike, including sights and sounds of picket-line disorders.

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