The Lucky Friday Mine in northern Idaho has been shut down before. One of the deepest silver mines in the U.S., Lucky Friday was the scene of a number of accidents in 2011—two of them resulting in death. Federal authorities ultimately shut down the silver shaft in 2012 while a full investigation and new safety precautions were put into place. It wasn't until February 2013 when the mine in the Shoshone County town of Mullan reopened.
Lucky Friday went dark again March 13 when, for the first time in 30 years, miners walked off the job. Work came to a halt at 5:30 a.m. as dozens of miners—members of United Steelworkers Local 5114—put down their tools and grabbed picket signs, indicating they wouldn't return until management at Coeur d'Alene-based Hecla Mining Company met the miners' demands.
Union leaders said Hecla's latest contract offer would change health care benefits and dramatically alter work shifts and vacation scheduling. The union has been working without a contract since April 2016, when the previous six-year pact with Hecla expired and both sides were sent to a federal mediator. Those talks broke down in February and, on March 12, members of USW Local 5114 voted 230-2 to walk off the job.
Local businesses in the Silver Valley immediately came to the miners' defense.
"Come show your support for our local miners," advertised the Sunshine Inn Restaurant and Motel, announcing a community spaghetti feed and pot luck. Social media began filling up with messages of "solidarity" and "stand strong guys."
Hecla released its own statement, saying it was "disappointed" in the walkout, adding it was facing "a changing economic and regulatory environment."
On February 23, Hecla announced to shareholders that it reaped $69 million in profits during 2016 "from strong performances" at its silver mines. The Lucky Friday Mine contributed 3.6 million ounces of silver to the 2016 total.