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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

With a narrow vote, Lucky Friday miners union accepts contract after more than two years on strike

The Lucky Friday mine rises against a hillside in Mullan, Idaho, on Monday, March 13, 2017, the first day of a strike by unionized miners against Hecla Mining Co. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Members of the union representing more than 160 workers at the Lucky Friday mine have voted in favor of a settlement agreement with Hecla Mining Co. that will end a 2 1/2-year strike at the North Idaho operation.

“By a vote of 86 to 78, the proposal has been accepted. The strike is over!!” the union, United Steelworkers Local 5114, said in a Facebook post Monday evening after votes were tallied electronically.

The vote follows the previous rejection of a tentative agreement by a majority of union members at the Mullan, Idaho, mine in November to end the labor dispute. The union had a third party count the mail-in votes in December and out of 157 votes cast, 80 opposed the contract proposal and 71 were in favor, while six were deemed invalid.

After the union’s rejection of the tentative agreement, Hecla said it would accelerate hiring of more employees, including contract workers, with a goal of reaching full production at Lucky Friday by the end of 2020.

The company told The Spokesman-Review in December it was open to bargaining in good faith with the union.

The union posted via Facebook that it met with Hecla later that month and brought forth members’ concerns in a five-hour bargaining session. The two parties discussed silver price premium plans, picket line terminations and the return-to-work physical and essential functions test, among other things.

In the revised strike settlement agreement, the union asked for employees to be provided with “reasonable accommodations” for prestrike positions as long as they return to the same career path. If a physician deems an employee returning from the strike incapable of performing prestrike duties, the worker can discuss other options with Hecla, such as a different career path with less demanding physical requirements.

Other return-to-work stipulations include that Hecla provide the first group of union employees return-to-work notices within five days of contract ratification. Each employee will have 31 days to complete a physical and a drug screen and receive a $1,000 signing bonus. Employees also will retain seniority accrued since March 2017.

“We, the USW and Local 5114, believe the proposed tentative agreement addresses the issues most important to our families and provides long-term security for our earnings, benefits and retirements that we need,” the union’s negotiating committee wrote in a memo.

Prior to reaching the tentative agreement in November, the two parties 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. Another point of contention was the ability for lead miners to pick their own work crew – a long-standing tradition at the more than 77-year-old mine.

Spokesman-Review reporter Chad Sokol contributed to this story.