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Welcome Back, Kotter

February 26, 2013 - 6:08pm

The Wallace Street Journal


Wallace, Idaho – Some observations about the reopening of the Lucky Friday Mine after a year's federally-ordered closure, which you may or may not have learnt from the “news” coverage last week of separate press conferences held by CEO Phil Baker in Wallace and Spokane.


Two things were news to me.


First, that fully 90 percent of the laid-off crew returned to the mine when called back. If there's an historic precedent, I am not aware of it.


(The Sunshine Mine, when I worked in the office there in the 1980s, typically would go through three times the number of actual people on the payroll at any given year – a turnover rate of 3-to-1. Hecla has accomplished essentially a zero-to-one ratio: Not many leave.)


Second, that Hecla fully covered the medical insurance premiums of its laid-off hourly and salaried workers for the duration of the year-long shutdown. If you have ever been laid off or left work and had to pay your own federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act to keep your family in health insurance (cutely acronymed “COBRA”) you'll understand how vicious and expensive these payments are.


I know furloughed airline pilots who cannot afford COBRA.


In my regular haunts I hear a lot of grousing and bitching about how the Lucky Friday has carried Hecla over all these years, particularly HL's Greens Creek mine on Admiralty Island in south eastern Alaska. One has to wonder, with $60 million bleeding into the Lucky Friday in 2012, and nothing in the way of cash coming out, where the money to pay those COBRA bennies came from. It sure didn't come from Messiah Obama, or (thank God) from some bank.


Not to say that Greens Creek is somehow a “better” mine than the Friday. Greens Creek is a much newer mine than any here in the Silver Valley and therefore its costs are lower. Hecla's decision to acquire the remaining 70 percent of Greens Creek from Kennecott right before the economy tanked in 2008 was a financially risky move.


But you only get a swing at the brass ring once or twice in your life and, at Greens Creek, Hecla took it. The only people who should be crying right now are Kennecott and Rio Tinto.


There will be many times, over the next decades, that Greens Creek will “carry” the Lucky Friday, or that the Lucky Friday will “carry” Greens Creek – as each may have done in the past.


The important thing here is that we are talking about decades. Silver (which is money) for our country, decent treatment of our miners, and a measure of certainty and integrity for ourselves and our kids.


And certainty's the thing. Would that the Barrack Messiah, the Federal Reserve, or the thugs in Congress and Goldman-Sachs, ever offer us the same.

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