A strike at the Lucky Friday Mine that has dragged on for 11 months could be headed toward a resolution.
Hecla Mining Co. has agreed to binding, third-party arbitration to solve the labor dispute. Members of the United Steelworkers Local 5114 will vote in March on whether they want to invoke arbitration.
If union members vote for the proposal, three arbitrators would decide on a three-year contract in early May.
“There are only two choices for the arbitrators,” said Mike Westerlund, Hecla’s vice president of investor relations.
They can either select the contract the company submitted in December as its revised final, best offer. Or, the arbitrators can choose the contract that expired in April 2016, with modifications agreed upon by the union and the company.
“The fact that we have been working and negotiating is positive,” Westerlund said Thursday.
Steelworkers representatives could not be reached for comment.
Miners at the underground silver property near Mullan, Idaho, have been on strike since March 13, after months of negotiations failed to produce a new contract.
Hecla’s initial proposal included changes to health care benefits, vacation scheduling and bonus pay tied to silver prices, the Steelworkers said at the time. Proposed changes to how work crews were assigned was also a point of contention.
Hecla announced the potential for arbitration during Thursday’s release of the company’s 2017 financial performance.
The Coeur d’Alene-based company lost $24.1 million last year but still reported its second-highest silver production despite the strike at the Lucky Friday Mine.
Hecla produced 12.5 million ounces of silver in 2017, down from the company’s record high of 17.2 million ounces in 2016. Mines in Alaska and Mexico also produce silver for Hecla.
The company’s 2017 loss amounted to 6 cents per share and compared to 2016 net income of $69 million, or 18 cents per share.
Suspension costs at the Lucky Friday Mine were $17.1 million last year. Hecla also recorded a $19.9 million non-cash charge in 2017 related to federal tax reform. In the long run, company officials said Hecla will benefit from lower corporate tax rates and changes to how its international operations are taxed under U.S. law.
This story has been updated to reflect that arbitration would be binding; an earlier version was incorrect.
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