Mining execs greeted by striking workers, allies at Minneapolis convention

Striking miners, local members of the United Steelworkers and other union activists march through the Minneapolis Convention Center, calling out Hecla Mining for refusing to bargain a fair contract.

Minneapolis is 1,087 miles from Mullan, Idaho, but distance offered Hecla Mining executives no reprieve from an ongoing labor dispute at its Lucky Friday mine, where about 250 members of United Steelworkers Local 5114 have been on strike for nearly a year.

A mining trade show at the Minneapolis Convention Center this week boasts Hecla as a co-sponsor. Steelworkers from Idaho and Minnesota rallied inside and outside the event today, keeping the pressure on the company to settle a fair contract.

“This is a fight for our community, for our families. This is our legacy,” striking miner James Hogan, who has worked at Lucky Friday for five years, said. “Wherever they go, we’ll follow them.”

The Lucky Friday strike began last March, after Steelworkers worked a full year without a new contract while the two sides bargained, allowing Hecla to complete a six-year facility upgrade.

The company has demanded – and unilaterally imposed – radical changes to Steelworkers’ working conditions, job security and health benefits, workers say. The biggest change impact seniority rights, giving management the ability to transfer a worker who speaks up about a potential hazard into a different position.

The seniority system has been in place for 37 years, Hogan said, and it was the company’s idea in the first place. Hogan’s father, a native of Hutchinson, Minn., worked 25 years at the Lucky Friday mine before retiring.

“Seniority gives us a voice in the workplace over how things are run, so that things are run safely,” he said. “They want to silence that voice.”

Hecla striker Rick Norman (R) rallies next to fellow striker James Hogan outside the convention center.

The Lucky Friday mine began operations in 1942, and until the strike began last year, it was producing silver at historic levels, according to reports by the company. Hecla turned a profit of nearly $70 million in 2016, and CEO Phillips S. Baker, Jr. rewarded himself with a robust compensation increase, from $4.7 million to $6.4 million.

But production at Lucky Friday has ground to a near-halt since the work stoppage.

In a letter to Hecla shareholders, union members warned that a “90 percent production drop” at the mine is proof the strike is not benefiting anyone. Stock in Hecla has lost 40 percent of its value over the last year.

The Steelworkers plan solidarity actions throughout the trade show. Rick Norman, a miner who traveled with Hogan to Minneapolis, called the solidarity Local 5114 members have discovered within their union – and from unions across the country – “overwhelming.”

Solidarity “is more than a bumper sticker, it’s an actual thing,” Norman said. “If we have to go another year, we will do it because what Hecla is trying to do is break our union.”

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