Deputies Keep Striking Miners Peaceful

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Law enforcement services in northern Gila County were stretched thin over the Independence Day holiday.

The Gila County Sheriff's Office dispatched deputies from Payson to help keep the peace at the Asarco copper smelter in Hayden after approximately 300 workers walked off the job Saturday at midnight, GCSO Sgt. Michael Fane said.

More than 1,000 Asarco employees at the Ray mine in Kearny and other mines in Marana and Sahuarita also joined the strike.

The miners are protesting Asarco's implementation of a three-year wage freeze and cuts in medical and pension benefits at a time when copper prices are at a 16-year high.

"There are three entrances to the smelter in Gila County which we are monitoring," Fane said. "The Ray mine is 10 miles away in Pinal County."

Fane said deputies are assisting the Hayden/Kearny Police Department, which has only five officers. Pinal sheriff's deputies are working the area around the Ray mine.

"So far it has been peaceful," Fane said. "We will be here for two weeks and then re-evaluate the situation. Depending on what happens, we may scale back and send some deputies back."

Payson Police, the Department of Public Safety and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers have been assisting the sheriff's office with coverage.

Officers struggled to keep up with the extra calls for service. The number of tourists escaping the Valley heat on a holiday weekend only added to the demand for public safety services.

A grass fire caused a temporary closure of the Beeline Highway at the Highway 188 turnoff resulting in a major traffic backup through town Sunday evening.

Payson police had to assist DPS with traffic control while calls for service poured into police and sheriff's dispatch. Police volunteers were called in to help with traffic control while officers responded to reports of drunk drivers and domestic disturbances.

Payson Police Sgt. Rod Mamero said officers assisted deputies on calls in Star Valley and Pine, including a juvenile disturbance that resulted in numerous arrests.

A total of 14 GCSO deputies are working 12-hour shifts in Hayden and staying at the local high school.

Although Fane said strikers have been peaceful so far, things could change if Asarco brings in non-union labor.

"The smelter has been shut down over the holiday weekend and the strikers have been very peaceful," Fane said. "It might get worse if (Asarco) starts bringing in non-union workers to keep the smelter open. That is what we are waiting to see."

Workers at the Hayden smelter were told the strike could last a minimum of six months, Fane said.

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