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KEARNY, Ariz. – To an extent, the future of Ray Federal Credit Union is in the hands of negotiators, working to end a month-long strike. The single-sponsor, $4-million Ray FCU serves employees of mining conglomerate Asarco, LLC. Union officials called the strike July 2 at the Ray mine in nearby Hayden, Ariz., after contract negotiations failed. Workers at the Hayden smelter facility, who had been working without a contract for a year, quickly joined the strike. Aside from retirees, employees from the two facilities make up the majority of Ray FCU’s 1,961 members. Asarco is the primary employer in the area, and 750 striking employees has had a big impact on this town of only 2,500, said Manager Darlene Sanders. “Right now, it doesn’t look real good, because neither side wants to budge,” Sanders said. “Lots of guys are taking jobs elsewhere, and I’m afraid a lot of people will end up moving or leaving.” To assist members who have lost regular paychecks, the credit union has offered an option to extend loan agreements and pay interest only during the months of July, August and September. Eligible loans include autos, recreational vehicles, personal loans and balances from last November’s Christmas loans, which have an 11-month term. Credit union employees delivered posters to the picket lines that promote the loan extension, and followed up with phone calls to affected members. Nearly all eligible members have signed up for the program, Sanders said. The 125 extended loans represent a sizeable portion of the credit union’s loan portfolio. The manager did not have a total dollar amount of loans, but a conservative $5,000 average loan balance adds up to 40% of the institution’s $1.6-million loan portfolio. “Right now, we’re doing okay with them paying the interest, but we’ll see what happens when October comes. If they’re still on strike, we’ll see what our board wants to do,” Sanders said. The credit union is considering a proposal to the NCUA to ask for a field of membership expansion that meets underserved area guidelines, Sanders said. The credit union and one bank are the only institutions in town, and the area is geographically separated from Phoenix to the northwest, and Tucson to the south, by mountain ranges. The strike also has a negative affect on future business. Sanders said she would usually promote a back-to-school loan promotion around this time of year, but because of the strike, few members would qualify. While no one on the credit union board represents top Asarco management, some are union leaders, Sanders said, which gives the credit union an inside scoop on labor negotiation progress. “We’re going to be reviewing our loan and charge off policies this meeting, so it should be interesting,” Sanders said. The hourly employees on strike earn anywhere from $12 to $20 an hour, which “is pretty good money for around here,” Sanders said. “But, like most people, they don’t save enough, or at all, and it’s starting to get very hard for them,” she said. At issue is employee benefits, Sanders said, which aren’t a priority for the Mexican-owned Asarco. “They have non-union employees in Mexico and other countries, so I don’t think they care much about American workers,” she said. Recent increases in copper prices have union officials wondering why those profits can’t be passed on to workers, Sanders said. “Of course now, since they have salaried employees trying do the physical mining, they can’t get the copper out fast enough while prices are high,” she said, adding, “They must be losing a fortune.” -

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