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Lucky Friday Mine union members reject agreement with Hecla Mining Co.

UPDATED: Mon., Dec. 16, 2019

Members of United Steelworkers Local 5114 step outside the union hall on East Trent Avenue in Spokane Valley after the vote on a tentative agreement with Hecla Mining Co. on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Members of United Steelworkers Local 5114 step outside the union hall on East Trent Avenue in Spokane Valley after the vote on a tentative agreement with Hecla Mining Co. on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Members of the union representing close to 200 workers at the Lucky Friday Mine near Mullan, Idaho, have rejected a tentative agreement with Hecla Mining Co. that would have ended a 2 1/2-year strike.

United Steelworkers Local 5114 and Hecla announced a tentative agreement in November that would have required ratification by a majority of union members to end the labor dispute.

The union had a third party count mail-in ballots Monday afternoon 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 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, hopefully, members will approve,” Swallow said.

Hecla was not immediately available for comment.

Prior to reaching the tentative agreement, the two parties had been at a stalemate in negotiations on a new contract since March 2017, when union members went on strike because of proposed changes to work assignments, health care 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.

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 predrug 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.

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