The president of the union representing workers at SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.’s SNC-T Candu Energy Inc. nuclear division is one of two employees the company terminated this week over allegations of sharing confidential information outside the organization, a move that has inflamed already-high tensions.
Mark Chudak, president of the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates (SPEA), and another staffer had been on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation into the alleged breaches before they were fired. SPEA said on Thursday it believes the terminations amount to an attempt at union-busting and that it plans to launch unspecified legal action against SNC-Lavalin.
SPEA represents about 900 Candu Energy employees, mostly scientists, engineers and technicians. It had previously accused the company of surveilling e-mails between employees and their union to gain intelligence during collective bargaining talks in 2021. Mr. Chudak led the talks on behalf of the workers.
“The firing of the union president and another employee is a continuation of SNC-Lavalin’s ongoing attempts to hamstring the union’s ability to represent its members,” SPEA said in a statement to The Globe and Mail.
Montreal-based SNC fired the two employees and imposed a lesser penalty on a third after concluding the staff members shared proprietary information with their union, whose officials do not have the necessary nuclear-industry security clearance. It said evidence showed they contravened the code of conduct and procedures for protecting information.
SNC spokesperson Laurence Myre Leroux said on Thursday she would not comment on individual employees’ files. “The security breaches of internal and proprietary information uncovered during the investigation constitute serious violations of SNC-Lavalin’s Protection of Information procedures, and the disciplinary measures taken on July 5, 2023, are commensurate with those findings,” she said in a statement.
Mr. Chudak declined to comment, but Michelle Duncan, a SPEA official, said the union will seek his reinstatement. “We are really confident he will be back to work,” Ms. Duncan said. “And not only will he be reinstated, he’s going to be fully compensated. It’s a wrongful dismissal.”
Relations between the company and the union have long been fractious, and the dismissals add new complications.
Previously, SPEA complained that SNC had been monitoring employee e-mails between the union and staff, and its accusation became the basis of two unfair labour practice complaints filed with the Canadian Industrial Relations Board.
At the time, the union was in talks over a new collective agreement for Candu Energy workers, difficult negotiations that eventually included rotating strikes and a company move to abruptly cancel pandemic-era work-from-home arrangements.
The company had previously granted nondisclosure agreements to union representatives so members could share information about workplace conditions, but ended that practice in 2021, according to the union.
When it raised the problem of e-mail monitoring with SNC, the union said the company refused to investigate the issue, and instead focused on questioning why employees used corporate e-mail accounts to communicate with the union.
SNC said on Wednesday it began its investigation after the company received a confidential complaint on its “Integrity Reporting Line,” which is operated by a third party. Ms. Leroux said the company monitored employee e-mails between 2019 and early 2022 as part of an internal audit related to an accusation about potential breaches of information.
Initially, the probe was inconclusive, but the company decided to keep up surveillance as Candu has a responsibility to handle the security of sensitive nuclear-related information on behalf of clients, she said.