By Allison Banks
Having lived the tough life of a miner, Alberto Millan didn’t want his oldest son, Robert, to follow in his footsteps. So when Robert informed him he wanted to be a miner and a union leader, Millan told him no.
In addition to driving 275-ton trucks for the local Kennecott Copper Corporation mine, Millan was a union leader for the Mine and Smelter Workers of the AFL/CIO, eventually rising to the position of chairman of the union’s grievance committee. He says he negotiated several concessions for workers, including higher wages, better working conditions and insurance benefits.
Not surprisingly, some of his employers didn’t like him.
“One time this guy got up and said, ‘You know what, Albert? I don’t like you,’” Millan recalled. “I never stayed quiet. I always answered back, ‘What makes you think I love you?’”
Millan tried to enlist in the Army at the age of 18, but was rejected for what he says was a “club foot.” He stuck with mining as a result, which wasn’t easy. He says the company tried on many occasions to get him to change locations because it wanted to get rid of him, but he never budged.
He also says he fought for the workers to be able to listen during their lunch break to Spanish-language music, which radio stations were starting to play at the time.
Born in August of 1930, Millan started laboring at the open-pit Kennecott mine in Santa Rita, N.M., near his hometown of San Lorenzo, when he was only 14. The second oldest of four children, he completed only eight years of school before going to work with his father to help support the family.
Millan was raised as a Catholic and a Democrat. He recalls his mother, Lumina Torres, Millan, being very involved with their local church, San Lorenzo Catholic. He grew up speaking Spanish in his home, but learned English at school.
While still attending school, he worked in the fields plowing hay, driving horses and weeding vegetables for 75 cents an hour. Once he started at the mine, he got $5.10 an hour.
Millan remembered the day he got a terrible call from the mines informing him his father, Alberto Millan, was sick. By the time he got to the mine, his dad was already dead from a heart attack. It was right as the whistle announced the beginning of the workday: 7:30 a.m.
Millan was 41 years old by this time. A year later, he lost one of his sisters, Irene, to a motorcycle accident, which made his family even more dependent on the income he generated. He worked for 33 years at the same mine.
“That’s the only job I ever had,” he said. “I gave them all my life.”
At the time of his interview, Millan was 73 and claimed he’d only received $362.50 a month since he retired, and didn’t think that was a fair amount for someone who put his whole life into working there. (When asked for documentation of payment(s) Millan received from Kennecott, his daughter, Nancy Martinez, wrote after his interview that the family no longer has any payment copies.)
Millan married Concha Gonzales in 1952. Together, they had six children: four sons and two daughters.
Millan says he moved his family to Silver City, N.M., later because he wanted the best for them, the schools were higher quality and he wanted them to better themselves.
“It looks like I raised them right,” Millan said.
Mr. Millan was interviewed by Robert Rivas on July 15, 2004, in Arenas, Valley, New Mexico.