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Vol. 81/No. 31      August 21, 2017

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Striking Idaho silver miners gain backing from unions in Northwest

Militant/Mary Martin
Striking silver miners and supporters picket near Hecla Mining Company headquarters in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Aug. 2. Strike against concessions began March 13, key issue is safety.
COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — Chanting “Hecla, Hecla, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side,” and “One day longer, one day stronger!” up to 150 silver miners, their families and supporters rallied in front of Hecla corporate headquarters here Aug. 2.

Members of United Steelworkers Local 5114 have been on strike at the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan since March 13. Their contract had expired in May 2016. The company announced it was going to impose its “last and final” offer. After workers rejected this concession-filled deal, the union went on strike.

Changes demanded by the mine bosses include a dangerous loss of union control on the organization of jobs and crews by a seniority-based bid system; loss of production bonuses key to their yearly income; recall rights from layoffs and mine closures slashed from three years to three months; and the right of the company to raise premiums and deductibles for health insurance at any time.

Participating in the rally were unionists and others from Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Washington state, California and British Columbia. Unions represented included the USW, Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, Iron Workers and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Twenty longshore workers had caravaned from western Washington to the rally. “Longshore workers came from union locals in Tacoma, Seattle and Aberdeen, as well as our pensioners’ organization,” Joe Lefebvre, vice president of ILWU Local 23 in Tacoma, told SWP member Edwin Fruit. “One of the oaths that we take is ‘to protect all workers everywhere.’ Sticking together is the only way we can win.” Lefebvre delivered a check to the strikers for $5,000 from his local, and the pensioners from the Tacoma local brought $600.

Six people came from USW Local 480 in Trail, British Columbia, which represents workers at the Teck smelter that refines the ore from Lucky Friday. “We support the brothers of Local 5114. We want to show Hecla that we as working people won’t be bullied,” Armindo deMedeiros, president of the local, told the Militant.

“We have to support the Hecla miners. Our own contract is up this month and the company wants to go after our medical care to add more to their profits,” said Greg McFarland, a USW mechanic at the Clearwater Paper Company in Lewiston.

Phil Epler, president of USW 5114, told the Militant that no union member had crossed the picket line. “Today’s turnout is important,” he said. “If you have enough solidarity, it doesn’t matter what the company tries to do.”

The company took aim at the miners and union control of safety in a July 29 full-page ad in the Shoshone News-Press. A copy was mailed to every miners’ household.

“The strike seems to be about a few senior employees retaining their power over the rest of the workforce,” Hecla bosses wrote. “Lucky Friday needs to evolve like all the other mines in the country have done to the new system we have proposed.”

“The union-controlled job bid system protects miners’ lives by ensuring that experienced miners teach the new hires the ropes,” Epler said. “Otherwise the boss can put a new hire in a position where he can endanger himself and others.

“In the last century there have been hundreds of deaths in the mines of the Silver Valley. The Hecla Mining Company bears responsibility for dozens of these,” he said. “We owe it to all those who lost their lives to fight for this.”

“The company’s letter was aimed at the wives, families and small businesses in the communities in the Silver Valley,” Bruce Baraby, a miner at Hecla for 40 years, told the Militant at a picket line outside Mullan City Hall where company and union negotiators were set to meet. “They said their contract offer was great, that it was just the senior miners who were holding out against the settlement, which they claim the younger members want. It’s not true. The company is trying to split the families, but it’s not working.”

“The support we have gotten is unbelievable,” said Dave Roose, the unit chairman and chair of the negotiating committee. “When this is over we look forward to supporting in any way we can other unions that may go through labor fights.”

Messages and donations can be sent to: USW Local 5114, P.O. Box 427, Mullan, Idaho 83846. More information can be found on the local’s Facebook page.
Related articles:
SWP takes support for miners strike to workers
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