The United Steelworkers union confirms it is paying the salaries of three people at NDP headquarters during the current campaign period before the provincial election in May.

"Unfortunately, we have to play in this arena," said Stephen Hunt, the western director for the steelworkers union. 

"It would be much better if we didn't, but we do and it's legal."

The United Steelworkers says it hired the NDP's deputy director and campaign director as union employees on contracts in the fall, then gave them approval to work on the party's campaign until May.

Responding to questions about influence peddling, Hunt said he isn't sure the contribution makes a difference. 

"I don't know if we have influence. All I'll say is we have a position and our position is [to] win the election so we can change what's going on in this province right now."

'This is absolutely standard practice'

Glen Sanford, deputy director of the B.C. NDP and one of the senior NDP staffers paid by the union, says the practice of unions supporting 'in-kind' party staffers is common.

"This happens in every campaign since campaigning started," Sanford told CBC News in an interview. 

"I don't think there's any question of influence."

The New Democrats have railed against the B.C. Liberals for their "cash-for-access" fundraisers and have promised to ban corporate and union donations.

'If they're problematic donations they should be banned'

While the NDP maintains it is just following the rules, some political watchers say the question of influence is still up for debate. 

"When parties are taking large contributions from individuals or businesses or unions, we do have to ask about influence," said Hamish Telford, a University of the Fraser Valley political science professor.

"I think the NDP are playing by the rules but also noting that the rules are flawed and need to be reformed."

Telford said the B.C. Liberals have raised twice as much money as the NDP when it comes to overall fundraising.

"I don't think it`s hypocritical to play by the rules while also suggesting the rules are flawed....if they're problematic donations they should be banned [altogether]."

With Files from Tanya Fletcher and CBC's Early Edition