If the wind hadn’t blown so hard, I wouldn’t have seen the man knocked silly by a flying rock. But the wind did blow. It blew sufficiently from the tops of the Oquirrh Mountains, down through Bingham Canyon and all but leveled what was hailed as the longest single-story building in the world?canyon folk make audacious claims?thus revealing for the first time the inner workings of Kennecott Copper’s precipitation plant. We called it the P Plant.
There, the acid water that was pumped up onto the mine dumps (and didn’t end up in South Jordan’s water supply) was gathered and mixed with metal scraps and more acid to produce a form of virtually pure copper. After the big wind, we kids could finally see just how the P Plant workers ended up covered in red, sweet-smelling acid muck. That muck was very profitable. So much so that during labor strikes, many of the company foremen would arm the P Plant’s high-pressure hoses to make sure the company continued to make money during work stoppages.
So it was around 1967 that on the hill across from DeMarco’s place just past our house, union strikers gathered to picket and harass the foremen and scabs working in the exposed P Plant just feet away. One day, a transport bus was tipped over. On another, a large rock flew, supposedly tossed by a striker’s wife, and crashed into the head of a foreman, his blood brighter than the copper muck. His safety helmet saved him?a concession to safe working conditions earned, ironically, by the unions.
The strike of ’67 lasted months. My dad, a foreman himself, made me quit my job cleaning the beer joint below our house. I was only 13, so I missed the five bucks I was paid for mopping up beer and piss. It didn’t look right, he said, some of our own family out of work, too. He was right. Some strikers got so hungry they all but poached the deer out of the Oquirrhs. Bingham Canyon produced many strong organizers and union men like Pete Peterson, John Leventis, Nick Yengich, Joe Dispenza, Stan Loder and Ed Mayne. In 1973, I earned $3 dollars an hour on the track gang thanks to those guys. Kennecott’s workers have been disparaged for decades, but I know them to be determined and dignified.
Today, another ill wind blows. RTZ, the British corporate giant that owns the Kennecott mine, is treating its men like Chiquita treats banana workers. It wants the union to concede to 12-hour shifts without breaks or lunch. It wants to dismantle the seniority system. It wants to ignore overtime pay guidelines. It wants to deny vacation in the following year if an employee misses five working days for any reason. It wants to alter the employee health plan and eliminate the health plan for retirees.
I’ll probably be corrected by some Kennecott bean-counting, limp-handshake pendejo, but I was told the retiree medical benefits cost Kennecott about $4 million annually. I was also told the CEO of RTZ makes $8 million annually all by his fox-hunting lonesome.
That sounds so …. American. We should bomb RTZ, not Iraq.
Somebody hand me a rock.