Coeur d'Alene-based Hecla Mining company has reached a tentative deal with the union for workers at the Lucky Friday mine, who have been on strike for two-and-a-half years.
The roughly 215 members of United Steelworkers Local 5114 will receive packets with the terms of the agreement, terms of returning to work, and a ballot which they will mail to a neutral third party to be counted, Chapter President Dave Roose says.
He declined to comment on the specifics of the agreement.
"We'll be holding some special meetings here in Mullan to handle any questions prior to voting," Roose says. "I want all of our members to be able to read it and use their own intelligence and vote how they feel."
When the strike was called in spring 2017, workers didn't like Hecla's plans to remove a job-bidding system that allowed them to pick where they worked based on seniority, as well as choose who they worked with. There were also questions about the compensation structure.
Hecla spokesman Luke Russell says that federal negotiators helped both sides reach agreeable terms, which include an increase in base wages, agreement on medical premiums, and a switch away from the old job-bidding system to allow the company to assign where people work. From there, workers can receive training on the job, which comes with pay increases, he says. The system is modeled after another United Steelworkers mine.
If the final vote, expected in four to six weeks, is favorable, it would end more than two years of nearly 24/7 picketing outside the mine. In that time, some members have died, retired or quit for permanent jobs elsewhere, while a majority had to find other temporary work nearby while the strike was on, Roose says.
Meanwhile, the mine has run at much smaller capacity.
"There's a workforce of salary people and now they do have hourly... I'm going to be politically correct here and call them 'replacement workers,' who crossed our picket lines," Roose says.
If the terms are approved, Hecla leadership believes the mine could be phased up to full operation within about a year, Russell says.
"Clearly getting this resolved would be a benefit to the company, the workforce, and the local community," Russell says.