After the union representing roughly 200 workers at the Lucky Friday mine failed to ratify a tentative agreement with Hecla Mining Co., the company says it plans to bring the mine to full production by hiring more employees and contractors.
On Monday, United Steelworkers Local 5114 rejected the agreement reached by union and company negotiating committees that would have ended a 2 1/2-year strike at the mine. Of 151 eligible votes, 80 opposed ratification, or 53%.
Coeur d’Alene-based Hecla responded to the vote in a news release late Monday evening, stating it will accelerate its hiring with a goal of reaching full production at Lucky Friday by the end of 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,” Phillips Baker Jr., Hecla’s president and CEO, said in the statement. “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.”
Local 5114 representatives did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment.
Before reaching the tentative agreement, Hecla and the union had been at a stalemate in contract negotiations 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.
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, said Luke Russell, Hecla’s vice president of external affairs.
Baker said in the statement that existing salaried and hourly employees have kept the mine operational and minimized the financial impact of the strike. The strike cost Hecla $14.6 million last year, according to the company’s 2018 year-end earnings report.
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.
“We remain open to discussions in good faith,” Russell said.
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