Hecla Mining Company plans to return Lucky Friday to full production with accelerated hiring
Hecla Mining Company announced that it plans to ramp up to full production by the end of 2020 at the Lucky Friday Mine by accelerating the hiring of new employees and contractors. This announcement comes after the United Steel Workers (USW) Union voted not to ratify a tentative agreement that would have ended a strike that has lasted for more than two-and-a-half years.
“For much of 2019 we have employed a number of hourly workers who, combined with our salaried workforce, have operated the Lucky Friday on a limited basis,” Phillips S. Baker, Jr., president and chief executive officer of Hecla said in a statement. “We will now accelerate hiring and utilizing contractors with the goal of reaching full production by year-end 2020. While we would have preferred ratification of the agreement reached by the two negotiating committees, after three years of negotiating we believe the best interests of the company and community is the Lucky Friday in full operation. The mine has operated for 75 years, and we believe its best days with projected higher grades and more cash flow, are in front of it.”
On Dec. 16, the USW Local 5114 rejected the agreement reached in November by union and company negotiating committees that would have ended the strike at the mine. Of 151 eligible votes, 80 opposed ratification, or 53 percent.
In March 2017, union members went on strike because of proposed changes to work assignments, healthcare benefits, vacation scheduling and bonus pay tied to silver prices, among other things.
A point of contention for union members was the ability for lead miners to pick their own work crew – a longstanding tradition at the 77-year-old mine.
With the help of a federal mediator, the two sides reached a tentative agreement on medical premium costs, an increase in base wages and job assignments that would allow workers to receive raises as they increase their skills. It also would allow miners to choose their own work crews. The plan is based on one used at another mine that employees USW workers.
Production was halted at Lucky Friday with the strike, but the mine was returned to limited production with use of salaried workers in July 2017.
Currently, 71 salaried workers and 20 hourly workers operate Lucky Friday, Luke Russell, Hecla’s vice president of external affairs told the Spokesman Review.
“I want to acknowledge the existing salaried and hourly staff at the Lucky Friday, who kept the mine operating during the strike and in doing so have helped minimize the financial impact. But most importantly, they have operated in a very safe manner, and were recognized for their efforts by receiving the highest mine safety award in the United States, the Sentinels of Safety from the National Mining Association, earlier this fall,” Baker continued.
Hecla is open to resuming contract talks with the union, but a new round of discussions between negotiating committees has not yet been scheduled, Russell said.