It was good enough when we were building the railroad

In Linky Firday #12, Will brings to our attention the curious case of HD Mining, a Canadian firm that decided to hire 201 temporary workers from China rather than hire a good ol’ Canadian boy with over 30 years under the ground. Unions are in an uproar; the mining company is sending workers back to China, and they’ll not be bringing any more people over to wonderful tolerant Alberta any time soon.

I imagine I had a different response than most.

To me, the lede was a feel-good story. A prosperous Canadian company was growing and providing employment. Workers living under an oppressive communist regime were invited to Canada. It’s the Canadian dream! And anyway, restrictions on the free movement of labour are economically unsound and a tad bit racist. Why would I need to worry about HD Mining’s business decision?

Sadly, the bullying of the unions has chastened HD Mining. They’ll not be offering the opportunity of a better life to any of the those people anymore.

Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.


  1. And anyway, restrictions on the free movement of labour are economically unsound and a tad bit racist. Why would I need to worry about HD Mining’s business decision?

    I think this would be the root of our disagreement.

    While I consider myself to be somewhat pro-immigration*, I am at least somewhat on board with the notion that the Canadian government ought to give a degree of preference to Canadian workers before bringing in outsiders. Especially in those industries with a more-or-less fixed need (as opposed to a more entrepreneurial industry like tech).

    * – Well, for the US anyway. I can’t think of a reason I would be more restrictionist if I were Canadian. I can think of reasons why I would be less so.

  2. That said, with regard to the CCD post, I am at least somewhat more sympathetic to the notion that all is not as it appears and that they wouldn’t be bringing in these folks if there really were locals willing to work for a good wage.

    • Yeah, my guess is that there are issues about wages, bringing in senior workers for junior roles, and things like that. I’ve had enough HR and hiring experience to know that trying to bring a worker into Canada is a giant pain and a not-unsignificant cost in terms of man-hours.

  3. I agree with your response.

    Here is my thing: I’m pro-union in that I believe unions have every right to exist and that employees should be free to assemble and collectively bargain if this serves their best interest. However, I also think that businesses should be free to hire non-union workers all the same as they hire union workers. If this company preferred to hire non-union workers and did so morally, ethically, and legally, I see no problem. The union can advocate for its members, but should use coercion to secure jobs.

  4. This isn’t overnight news. It’s something that’s been going on for years now; at least 6 yrs.
    In the labor shortages caused by the development of the oil sands, companies have been bringing in workers from Turkey, the Philippines, et al., as a union-busting measure.
    It’s not surprising that the unions would oppose it.
    My own union (a Canadian-American union) has been actively recruiting members for work in Canada for several years now. They wanted to send me to some water treatment plant in Halifax back in 2005.
    The road to Edmonton goes through Detroit. Journeymen are dispatched to Edmonton from the Detroit hall for 6 month rotations.

    Some of the rest of this information comes from conversations with a carpenter native to the Edmonton area.

    There is steady work in the West, but not so much in the rest of the country. There are a lot of workers from the Maritimes manning Ft. McMurray.
    Work is underway to produce refining capacity in the area in order to ship finished product rather than crude.
    It’s not an ordinary crude either. There are some particular problems with it. I’ll get to that later.
    The union in Alberta has been trying to accommodate the needs of the companies. They received approval to change the apprenticeship from five yrs to four in 2006, I believe. They have since changed the apprenticeship to three years– the only place I know of where something like this has happened.
    Scale in that area is quite high; about the same as Chicago scale here. It needs to be. Things can get a bit spendy in No. Alberta these days.
    Whatever they offered to pay these guys, it probably sounded like a lot of money. And it was probably well below what the prevailing wage in the area was. And it probably wouldn’t go very far if they needed to buy a pair of woolies locally.

    The oil sands crude is a thick high-sulfur sludge. It requires a catalyst and steam added to the line in order to get it to flow through the pipeline. It generates a lot of H2S and sulfuric acid in the refining process.
    It also has a lot of heavy residues; and the sign that a refinery is processing oil sands crude is the presence of a coker unit. These break down the heavy residues to petro coke for use in mill work.
    One company has shifted to all high-chrome plugs for their piping, due to the sulfuric acid content of the oil sands crude. There was a failure at some refinery, and this is a safety measure. But generally, refining the stuff requires some beefed-up metals.
    And there’s a world of difference working with 9-Cr than working with carbon steel.
    Quite a few of the lines are 100% x-ray. Quite a few of them are ASME Class M.

    I’m kind of ambivalent about the “stand firm” approach. I think a proliferation of horror stories coming from such workers could well provide the desired deterrent effect.

    But it’s certainly not a feel-food story about a nice mining company trying to do something to benefit down-trodden immigrants.
    This is straight-up union-busting, and it’s been going on for years.

    • So you’re saying that unions are trying to stop foreign workers from seeking a better life and HD Mining is trying to thwart them?

      Tell me again who the villains are.

  5. They’ll not be offering the opportunity of a better life to any of the those people anymore.

    “Those people” refers to non-union workers, or people hired expressly to circumvent the union. You can argue that unions are bad-for-business – as I think you are – but that’s different than suggesting that the national origins of immigrants hired to undermine the union has anything to do with it.

    From your linked post:

    Other than discriminating against people based on the geographical happenstance of their birth, there is no good argument to maintain the protectionist labour racket that these unions are defending.

    Well, of course there is. The members of the union, and those sympathetic to the union, argue that their economic self-interest is of primary importance. (That’s the same logic that capitalists use when advancing profit motive as a necessary principle of the marketplace.) On a broader level, an argument could be made that immigrant workers need to establish better pay in their own country rather than free-ride off the efforts and elevated living standards established by actions of individuals in a foreign country.

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