SANTIAGO Aug 22 Chile's Atacama Large
Millimeter/submillimeter Array, an international observatory
that operates one of the world's most powerful radio telescopes,
has been hit by a strike over pay.
Nearly 200 workers in the ALMA union began the strike on
Thursday after failing to reach agreement with their U.S.
employer, Associated Universities Inc (AUI), the union said.
The union seeks a 15-percent wage increase and benefits
"taking into account the isolation and altitude at which the
workers carry out their jobs," it said.
ALMA's antennas are in a remote part of the Atacama desert
in Chile's north at 16,400 feet (5,000 meters) above sea level.
The dryness and altitude create some of the best conditions for
observing the night sky.
Most of the mines operating in Chile, the world's number one
copper exporter, are also located in the Atacama.
Disputes over pay and work conditions, as well as local
unrest over environmental issues linked to the mines, have
become increasingly common in the region.
"ALMA regrets that it was unable to reach a mutually
satisfactory agreement with its union ... to establish a new
collective labor contract," the observatory said. "ALMA has
activated a contingency plan that will enable it to continue
The 194 striking workers are technicians and administrators
and do not include scientists, a AUI spokesman said.
The $1.1 billion telescope, which began full-scale operation
in March, has already spotted galaxies expelling gas and a star
formation near the center of the Milky Way's supermassive black
hole. It also has captured the first image of an icy ring around
a distant star.
ALMA is funded by the European Union, the United States,
Canada, Taiwan and Japan.
(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Xavier Briand)