Felix Jaramillo

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During my younger years, I was employed at the mine and belonged to another union–not the local 890.

Most of my family, friends, and neighbors during my childhood worked as miners at various mining sites in Grant County. Labor strikers were common. I first learned about the Empire Zinc labor strike when I was older from the oral histories passed down from various people. I recognized that labor was the main catalyst for an increase in labor union activity in Grant County. The Local 890 was a labor union that, in its hay day, was strong and influential in securing fair labor standards regarding worksite safety, equitable pay for employees, and an increase in the worker’s standard of living. Several separate unions were organized for the mine workers, but the local 890 was the largest, and as such, it was the lead union during labor negotiations and strikes.

The Bayard Local 890 union hall is now a landmark in Grant County. Initially, the hall was named The Juan Chacon Union Hall, named after the union member who was represented by the lead character in the movie The Salt of the Earth. 

 The Salt of the Earth is important to Grant County, New Mexico and much of the United States in that it addresses organized labor and the struggle for gender equality. The film used professional and lay actors, many of them whom I knew personally and who were involved in the actual Empire Zinc labor strike. Now, the film is used in high school and university classes. The contribution of women to the labor union strike, in my opinion, is both awesome and meaningful, then and today. The fact that the film was banned served as a promotional strategy in the long-run. I wonder who receives the royalties from such a masterpiece film.

I am fortunate to have the experience to be familiar with the labor issues–and this is thanks to the history of the community and the film. The film, history, and rhetorical activities surrounding “Salt of the Earth” instilled in me a sense of pride and empowerment. I believe that this led me to educate myself and pursue a career in law. I studied civil rights, labor law, and gender equality, and I used that to fight the good fight.

The significance of these historical events are of great importance to the continuing struggle for labor rights, women’s rights, and equal pay for both genders in the workplace. Unions, including the Local 890, have suffered setbacks recently. This fact is a consequence of unfair labor practices and union busting activities by the current owner of the mine. The struggle continues, and the fight is not over.

The Local 890 union hall should be preserved and used, not only as a union hall in the future, but as a historical community treasure.

-Felix Jaramillo

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