Union rejects tentative agreement at Lucky Friday Mine

December 17, 2019

The tentative agreement proposed by Hecla Mining to settle a strike at its Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan, ID was rejected by the union.

The agreement would have put an end to a strike that has stretched on for more than two-and-a-half years.

The Spokesman Review reported the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5114 had a third party count mail-in ballots on Dec. 16 at USW Local 338’s union hall in Spokane Valley. Of 157 votes cast, 80 were against the contract proposal and 71 in favor. Six ballots were ruled ineligible for the count.

The tentative agreement that was announced in November (ME, Nov. 11, 2019) would have required ratification by a majority of union members to end the labor dispute.

The union’s next step is to notify Hecla of the results and go back to the bargaining table, said Timothy Swallow, a United Steelworkers staff representative.

“Hopefully we can make some adjustments with this agreement and members will approve,” Swallow said.

Hecla was not immediately available for comment.

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.

Luke Russell, vice president of external affairs told Mining Engineering in November that the two sides had “reached common ground on things like an increase in base wages, the medical premium and job-assignment training, which was the bidding issue,” said Russell.
Russell said parts of the agreement were patterned on the Galena Mine, which is also represented by the USW.

Under the tentative agreement, employees were expected to return in stages following a mine inspection conducted by individuals appointed by Hecla and the union, according to Hecla’s website.

Union employees would have retained seniority accrued since March 2017, received a $1,000 ratification bonus within 10 days and have been required to obtain a pre-employment drug screen and physical before returning to the mine.

USW 5114 rejected a proposal to end the strike in March by voting against arbitration, stating a panel of arbitrators would have allowed management “unprecedented, unchecked control over who works and the schedule they work, along with who advances through Hecla’s job-progression system and at what pace,” according to a union news release at the time.

The strike cost Hecla $14.6 million in 2018, according to the company’s year-end earnings report. Silver production at the mine dropped to 169,041 ounces in 2018, a decrease from 838,658 ounces produced in 2017, according to the report.