Miners devastated over job losses at Sierrita mine

Miners devastated over job losses at Sierrita mine

GREEN VALLEY, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Many miners worked their last graveyard shift at the Freeport-McMoran Sierrita copper mine in Green Valley on Dec. 9.

Freeport-McMoRan Inc. announced plans to curtail operations at its mine outside Green Valley.

The Sierrita Mine, located south of Tucson, employs more than 1,000 people.

The company said the decision is based on market conditions, including falling copper prices. In October, the company announced it would eliminate 430 additional jobs to the 150 job cuts announced in August.

Freeport-McMoRan spokesman Eric Kinneberg said in an email the full curtailment of the mine and mill operations will affect approximately 450 employees, in addition to previously announced workforce reductions amounting to approximately 580 jobs.

Kiko Ahumada, an equipment operator working in the pit of the copper mine, said he heard about the layoffs through social media and friends before hearing it from the company. He said the mood had been glum around work, as these layoffs came right before the Christmas holiday.

"Everybody is on edge and a little snappy here and there. It's devastating you know, I came here looking for a career, looking for longevity," Ahumada said.

Business owners around Green Valley said the layoffs would affect their bottom lines as well.

Jace Lanko, a bartender at Pub 1922, talked to many of the miners while mixing drinks, and said it was all they seemed to talk about.

"I know a lot of the guys by name and you know, I feel for them right now. I hope everything will turn out alright for them," Lanko said.

Environmental advocates with Save the Scenic Santa Ritas said this announcement of layoffs was no surprise.

"There are several copper mines in southern Arizona. None of them have been operating at full capacity for a very long time, if ever," said Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas.

"We have got to move away from these extractive industries that not only do a lot of damage to our air and water, but this is a good example of how they don't really provide a good future for people," she added.

With copper prices at an all-time low, many mines had been reducing their work force. Prices could go up again, as it is cyclical in nature, but that is little relief for miners like Ahumada.

"I got three kids at home, I'm a single father. I've only been in my house for over a year, it's devastating. This is very hard," Ahumada said.

Kinneberg said the mine will continue running according to the current plan until the company can build a system to control the "sulfate plume downgradient" from the tailings in accordance with Arizona Department of Environmental Quality requirements.

About 250 employees will remain at the site to run the operations when the mine and mill move to care and maintenance mode, Kinneberg said.

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