North Idaho could get some very good news soon.
Itís OK to report good news, isnít it?
After two and a half mostly acrimonious years, Coeur díAlene-based Hecla Mining Co. and leaders of United Steelworkers Union 5114 have struck gold. That is, the famous Lucky Friday silver mine near Mullan might soon see the end of a prolonged strike.
Itís about time.
In fact, itís way past time ó but at this point, that doesnít matter.
What matters is that union workers are voting this month to accept or refuse the tentative agreement reached by the negotiating committees. In our view, the agreement goes above and beyond to ensure workersí needs are being met. While all of the strike settlement agreement and other supporting information is posted on the companyís website (https://www.hecla-mining.com), the committees addressed, among other items, medical premiums, overtime and holiday pay, work assignment progression through training that would lead to higher pay rates, plus an adjustment to ensure all workers earn wages as high or higher than they did under the previous contract.
Thereís more. Workers will receive credit for time on strike for seniority purposes, and theyíll all receive a $1,000 ratification bonus, even if they choose not to come back to work. Merry Christmas!
Thanks to the involvement of a federal mediator who helped find common ground between the two sides, ground gained at times through meetings at Spokane International Airport, Hecla wins the biggest prize of all: A talented workforce that will get the Lucky Friday back into full production.
This is a huge issue for the Silver Valley, which would benefit tremendously from seeing more than 200 miners ó many of whom earn six-figure annual pay ó go back to work. It also would put gas into one of the regionís best and longest running economic engines.
Hecla is the longest-operating Coeur díAlene business at 128 years old. Second longest is the newspaper youíre holding in your hand (127 years old).
In the five years leading up to the strike, the Lucky Friday pumped more than $800 million into the local regionís economy. The best news is that Hecla estimates thereís a good 20 or more years left in that deep mine capable of producing 3 million or more silver ounces annually.
The Press would like to congratulate all the parties in finding that common ground, which gives both sides ó and all the rest of us ó plenty of reason to celebrate. Itís our hope that union workers will feel the same way and ratify the agreement this month.
After all this time, wasted production and general anxiety, this is no time to blow it.
Letís get back to work, folks.