USW unanimously votes to continue strike

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Photo by Chanse Watson Phil Epler addresses United Steelworkers local 5114 members gathered in Mullan Pavilion Friday afternoon.

Members of the United Steelworkers (USW) Union local 5114 chapter have unanimously voted to continue their strike of Hecla Mining Company’s Lucky Friday Mine.

Gathered in the Mullan Pavilion Friday afternoon, a sea of hands shot up when all 246 USW members were asked if they wanted to continue the strike.

With no negotiations between Hecla and the miners since the strike began on March 13, Friday’s USW vote was mostly held for the purpose of formally changing the legal reason for the strike.

Originally declared an economic strike when the first vote was taken, the passage of this most recent vote has now made it a strike over unfair labor practices.

USW President Phil Epler explained the reason for the change is to secure their jobs at the mine.

“If Hecla decided to bring in replacement workers when we finally ratify an agreement, those workers would have to leave immediately and we’d have to get our jobs back.”

Under an economic strike, the miners would still get their jobs back after a deal had been reached, but it would have to happen over time as the replacement workers left.

Going on day six of the strike, USW 5114 has been busy holding pickets all over the area and gathering support for the cause.

On Friday, a picket was held in Coeur d’Alene in front of Hecla’s corporate office in addition to the continuous one being held in front of the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan.

Epler said several other Unions in the region have pledged their support to USW 5114’s cause.

This support aids USW 5114 through assistance with organizing strategic campaigns and building financial support for their hardship fund.

Going forward, Epler says that the mindset of the miners is all about solidarity.

“Sticking together, keeping rumors at bay, and doing the next best thing one day longer- one day stronger.”

Keeping this mentality, Epler believes that this gets them to their ultimate goal- get Hecla back to the table.

“All we want is what we already have,” Epler stressed.

The initial strike vote on March 12, and the ensuing strike itself, was spurred by Hecla announcing March 10 that the company planned to implement portions of its proposed “last, best, and final” offer for a new labor contract.

This offer, presented to the Union on Jan. 11, was unanimously rejected — 222 votes against, zero for — by the miners on Feb. 19 over several areas of disagreement.

The two sides have failed to come to an agreement over a new labor contract since the previous one expired on May 1, 2016.

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