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Union mired in mining court case launches website for donations

One of the B.C. unions mired in a court case over a federal permit that would bring 200 workers from China to work at a northern B.C. mine has launched a website that encourages the public to donate money and help cover costly legal fees.

The case is centred around a coal mine in Tumbler Ridge, B.C. The unions involved in the case allege that HD Mining did not do enough to employ Canadians before applying to bring miners in from China to fill the jobs at the mine. The company has to show it made sufficient efforts to find Canadians before bringing in workers from overseas.

The company has defended itself, saying it put out job ads but that out of the 100 Canadian applicants interviewed, none had the highly-specialized underground mining skills sufficient for the job.

The unions have spent over $200,000 on legal and related fees so far, and the costs are going up, said Tom Sigurdson, executive director of BC Building Trades Council, an umbrella organization encompassing the unions involved in the action.

"We're not suing for anything other than the rights of Canadians to have access to jobs," said Sigurdson. "I think that this is an issue that is not going to go away. It just would be helpful if we had donations from other sources, rather than just strictly from the unionized construction workers who essentially fund our council operations."

On the website for the campaign, called Labour Speaks Out, the union has compiled background information about the case, with a timeline of events, select media stories and an opportunity to donate.

The unions' request to have the federally-granted permit reviewed in court was approved last Friday, and a judicial review is scheduled for April 9 to 11.

The Labour Speaks Out campaign is a response to inquiries from people who've asked how they can help, said Brian Cochrane, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115, the union behind the campaign and website.

The topic of temporary foreign workers affects the Canadian workforce "from coast to coast," he said.

Sigurdson said he expects large contributions from some organizations.

"I know of some already that have told me that some contributions will be in the thousands of dollars, and I have no doubt that there will be a few people that just want to make a small personal donation because the matter is important to them," he said.

Carly Rhianna Smith is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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