By BRIAN SKIFFINGTON
Special to The Stand
COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (Aug. 8, 2017) — Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Locals 19, 22, 23, 24 and the Pacific Coast Pensioners Association converged on Hecla Mining Companies corporate offices near Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday, Aug. 2. Seventeen longshore workers from Western Washington joined United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5114 and trade unionists from California, Arizona, Utah and Canada to chant, rally and make a unified exit en masse, marching directly across US 95 during the rush hour commute.
USW 5114 has been on strike at the Hecla-owned Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan since March 13. After meeting with the union 27 times at the negotiating table, Hecla management imposed their last-best-and-final offer, prompting an Unfair Labor Practice strike that is now entering its fifth month. There are 230 workers on strike in a town with a population of just 840. You can hardly find a storefront along this stretch of the Idaho Panhandle that isn’t displaying a sign in support of these workers.
The ILWU has a culture of solidarity, committed to “help any worker in distress,” as it’s codified in the 10 guiding principles of the ILWU. But this strike hits particularly close to home.
At stake for these miners is a long-standing process of union control called the bid system. Like attacks on the ILWU’s worker controlled hiring hall, the miners bid system allows the union to dictate who will work the jobs in the mines. Seniority, safety, experience and worker control, these are all preserved in the bid system. Management would like workers to arrive at work and receive their assignments for the day. There are at least 16 mines in the United States that currently use the bid system, despite management’s claims to the contrary.
Lucky Friday miners work at depths of 8,000 feet below ground, in 140 degree heat with sudden and violent pressurized movements of the earth. The bid system allows miners with the most seniority to assemble crews based on trust and experience. These are workers who have lost fellow miners underground, who’ve pulled bodies out from underground. They don’t mince any words when talking about the importance of safety and experience on the job.
Read more about the strike and the workers’ issues in this Labor Notes article.
After the rally in Coeur d’Alene, the ILWU’s solidarity caravan moved to Mullan where we delivered supplies to the USW union hall and spent time in front of the mine with strikers on picket duty. There is no way to fabricate these kinds of bonds and connections. What started as a retired longshoreman telling a young worker about a miners’ strike one state over, snowballed into appeals at several union meetings to send strike funds and ultimately impelled 17 workers to go on a camping trip in support of some fellow trade unionists.
When you do these sorts of things together as a union, you strengthen your own organization. To have moments around a camp fire spanning every generation of active and retired longshore workers, carpooling with fellow workers you are meeting for the first time. There is no way to replicate this kind of internal union building.
Long live the mighty fighting USW 5114!
Contributions to their strike fund can be made here: P.O. BOX 427, Mullan, Idaho 83846
Brian Skiffington is a rank-and-file member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
ALSO see last week’s coverage in the Spokesman-Review — Lucky Friday miners rally at Hecla headquarters in Coeur d’Alene — It’s been 143 days since Bob Clark has stepped foot in Silver Valley’s Lucky Friday mine. And the same can be said for many of his co-workers, who voted 230-2 in favor of striking on March 12.. Clark and more than 100 of his coworkers and their families, retirees and union workers from across the U.S. gathered Wednesday to rally in front of Hecla’s corporate headquarters in Coeur d’Alene.