Mining Operations Suspended at Chino
By JIM OWEN
Daily Press Staff
December 2008 - Chino Mines Co. suspended mining operations Tuesday at its copper pit in Santa Rita, placing 400 workers on paid leave.
The employees will receive full salaries and benefits until they are laid off “on or about Feb. 13,’ according to Richard Peterson, spokesman for Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., Chino’s parent company.
“When the remaining crushed ore is processed, another 200 will be placed on paid leave,’ he said. “That should happen in the next few days.’
Those workers, as well, are to be laid off on or about Feb. 13.
Meanwhile, personnel at the Silver City office of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions announced plans for “rapid-response activities.’ From Jan. 5-9, at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day, information about unemployment insurance and other assistance for laid-off miners will be available at Western New Mexico University’s Global Resource Center at 817 W. 12th St. in Silver City.
The work-force reductions at the mines began Nov. 12, when Freeport terminated 95 employees at Chino, which had 940 workers on the payroll. On Nov. 17, 36 people were laid off at the Tyrone Mine, which had 517 employees.
On Dec. 3, Freeport announced it planned to terminate about 600 more positions at Chino. The Tyrone facility’s mining rate is to be cut by 50 percent, with the number of people losing their jobs to be determined “over the next six months,’ Peterson said.
The company’s executives, in a written statement, said their plans to cut production and reduce the work force are ways of “aggressively responding to current market conditions, which have weakened dramatically in recent weeks.’
Copper prices fell from about $3.61 per pound at the end of September to an average of $1.69 last month.
The reduction in the mines’ work force is the largest since the previous owner, Phelps Dodge, terminated about 650 positions in January 2002.
When the latest layoffs were announced, Peterson said: “We will be working with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions to help these employees with the transition to other opportunities. We regret the hardship this causes our employees.’
All qualifying employees at Freeport’s North American mining operations are being offered an “enhanced’ early-retirement benefit if they leave by Jan. 31.
“In addition,’ Peterson said, “there is a voluntary resignation incentive program. Certain employees will be offered a severance arrangement that includes eight weeks of pay and company payment of (medicalinsurance coverage) for six months.’
Jim Owen may be reached at email@example.com.