Historical Perspective: A San Manuel Union Man

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Don Shelton, left, accepts a flag for the union from Congressman Mo Udall.

  San Manuel was built as a company town. Magma Copper Company needed a place to house its workforce.

  San Manuel has also been a union town.

  With Labor Day just past, we thought we’d take a look at one of San Manuel’s Union Men.

Don Shelton

  Don Shelton hired on Magma Copper Company at San Manuel, Jan. 15, 1965. He had been two years out of the Air Force and had just been laid off by Hughes. His brother-in-law told him about Magma.  By the summer he had joined Local Union 937 of the Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers. Don had started working underground as a chute tapper. He remembers his first day underground. He said he was very scared.

  After six months, he was able to transfer to a position as a pipefitter’s helper. After working in that position for a while, management staff at the company attempted to remove him from that position even though his immediate supervisors felt he was a good worker. The union stepped in and saw to it that he retained the position. It was then that he became active as a union member. He felt he owed the union something. He had also talked with Frank Salas who he had gone to high school with. Frank urged him to join. Salas would become a union president later on as would Shelton.

The Magma/BHP Smokestacks fall in 2006. This photo was taken by Don Shelton.

  When Don became active in the union, the President was Edward Jackson and the Financial Secretary was Nick Key.  He also became acquainted with Rudy Garcia who was the Business Agent for the union at the time. Don was a delegate to the last Mine Mill convention held at the Pioneer Inn in Tucson in 1967. It was the meeting where the primary purpose was the merger of Mine Mill with the United Steelworkers of America. 

  Don said the meeting “was amazing”. There were arguments between Mine Mill members who felt the merger should not take place and those who felt they had to. When it was announced that the merger was approved, many members were in shock that the Steelworkers were now in control. Some members had tears in their eyes, Mine Mill had ended.  Don said that he “liked the camaraderie of Mine Mill and felt they were more dedicated to the welfare of the workers” than the Steelworkers. There also wasn’t the skullduggery endemic to that union at the time.

  Don remained active in the union until his retirement in 1998. He held all the local offices including President from 1982 – 1991. He was directly involved in all of the contract negotiations between the Steelworkers and Magma/BHP from 1971 on. In 1987 he became President of the Arizona AFL-CIO. In his capacity working for the union, he met Congressman Morris Udall and Senator Ted Kennedy. Don said of Senator Udall: “Mo Udall was a liberal friend of the workers and a great congressman.”

  Don was a proud union man and still is.

John Hernandez (730 Posts)

John Hernandez lives in Oracle. He is retired and enjoys writing and traveling. He is active in the Oracle Historical Society. He covers numerous public events, researches historical features and writes business/artist profiles.


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