Freeport extends furloughs while posting new job openings

Photo By Freeport-McMoRan

By Jon Johnson

GRAHAM AND GREENLEE COUNTIES – Mining giant Freeport-McMoRan continues to extend some furloughs while opening up new jobs.

Citing a downturn, the company previously announced a revised operating plan on April 24 that called to reduce milling at its seven mines in North America by 20 percent but advised it would still complete its Lone Star copper leach project adjacent to its Safford mine. The project was already 90 percent complete and had a remaining investment of about $100 million for 2020, according to the release.

That same day, Safford Operations General Manager Jeff Monteith sent out a letter to “community partners” that stated while actions were being implemented to significantly reduce all elements of costs and capital spending due to lower copper prices, Safford Operations would “not see any significant changes based on these revised operating plans.”

However, in May human resources at Safford Operations discussed input on voluntary furloughs of between one to four months at a safety meeting and then began furloughs.

At that time, Freeport-McMoran Vice President of Communications Linda Hayes advised that while the company furloughed a number of Safford employees it actively looked to replace contractors with Freeport-McMoRan employees to minimize the impact on the workforce. The same strategy was done at the company’s Morenci mine.  

Now, however, Hayes is advising that some furloughs could be extended up to six months, but other jobs are available.

“We continue to implement our revised operating plans and evaluate the resulting organizational structure,” she said. “While we address the evolving business environment, we have extended furlough periods from one month up to six months depending on employment status. Extending the furlough period allows furloughed employees to remain on unpaid leave of absence and continue their eligibility for most company benefits. Furloughed employees can apply for any of the more than 130 positions now open across the company.”

On May 12, the company also gave advance notice of possible layoffs to workers of its sites at Safford Analytical Services lab off U.S. Highway 70, Safford Process Technology in Sanchez, and multiple sites in Tucson.

The notice contained an announcement of possible action from Freeport Minerals Corporation advised of the Worker Adjustment and Retaining Notification Act of 1988 (WARN) which encourages employers to give advance notice to potentially affected employees of a planned mass layoff or planned closing.

“Although the company currently does not have plans to engage in an event that would trigger a legal WARN notice, based on the uncertainty facing the company and the spirit of being transparent and open, it is issuing the voluntary WARN notice now to our employees who may be potentially impacted,” the notice said.

“The company currently anticipates that further unemployment losses may occur during the 14-day period beginning June 21 and ending July 4 and that your employment may be impacted during this timeframe.”

Morenci Operations Senior Vice President Mike Kridel sent an email to employees on Tuesday advising that “furloughs are complete and our employees from the mine and Morenci Mill have, or will be, transitioned into new roles this week. Many of these new roles are replacing existing contractors. This allowed us to retain more of our employees and decrease our overall costs. The effected contractors have been notified and are in the process of reducing their staff.

The last few months have been extremely challenging. We had to make some very difficult decisions. I appreciate everyone’s efforts to retool our operating plans and work together to meet our new goals.”

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