In a release Tuesday, Unifor national president Lana Payne said SNC should reinstate Mark Chudak, who led the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates (SPEA) until he and another staffer at the engineering firm’s Candu Energy Inc. subsidiary were dismissed last month over allegations of sharing confidential information with an outside organization.
Payne said the move marked “an alarming signal of anti-union behaviour” at the SNC.
“Workers have the right to organize and advocate for their rights without fear of retaliation. This company must understand the severity of their action and the impact it has on labour relations and employee morale,” she said.
The statement comes after a filing by SPEA to the Canada Industrial Relations Board earlier this year that claimed SNC managers were surveilling emails between union staff and employees at the Candu nuclear division – a process the company has acknowledged.
In an interview Friday, SNC chief executive Ian Edwards said the employees in question, who initially had been placed on paid administrative leave, had violated policies around information security.
“It’s serious in any business, but it’s pretty serious in the nuclear business. So we were almost without choice,” Edwards said.
He also acknowledged potential fallout from the terminations: “That obviously isn’t helpful to the relationship with SPEA.”
Edwards said unions are key to project delivery, “and SPEA is no different, and I really hope we get back to a level of respect on both sides.”
He noted the company had hired a new president of Candu, Gary Rose, who has worked with unions in his previous executive posts at Ontario Power Generation.
Rose replaced Bill Fox, who was helming Candu when it mandated all employees return to the workplace with one business day’s notice in June 2022.
SPEA said that order amounted to a negotiating tactic amid a rotating strike launched the previous month at Ontario’s Darlington nuclear plant, which Candu is refurbishing.
In a copy of the memo from June 2, 2022, obtained by The Canadian Press, Fox reminded workers that a hybrid work model proposed to start the previous September was “on the table,” meaning that the abruptly announced “full-time in-office working policy could change when bargaining concludes.”
Alleging bad-faith bargaining, SPEA filed a complaint with the labour board.
SNC said in a statement at the time the company hoped to reach a “fair, equitable and competitive agreement” with the Candu workers. The job action ended days later with an agreement on June 14, 2022.
Meanwhile, the emails between union staff and union members at Candu were found out due to an automatic e-mail reply in late 2021.
“It appears that private emails between union members and SPEA staff were being automatically forwarded to (SNC) Labour Relations. This was only discovered because of the ‘out of office’ feature,” the union stated in a filing to the industrial relations board.
The accusation was part of a pair of unfair labour practice complaints to the board, which are ongoing.
SNC-Lavalin told The Canadian Press it monitored worker emails between 2019 and early 2022 as part of an internal audit “focusing on the transfer of confidential company information and the removal of security identifiers relating to emails sent externally,” spokesman Harold Fortin said in an e-mailed statement in March.
Michelle Johnston, president of the Society for United Professionals, which represents more than 9,000 engineers, scientists and lawyers in Ontario, said projects like the reactor refurbishment at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station demand “huge money and unforgiving schedules.”
“Labour peace, in my opinion, is a precondition for success,” she said in an interview. “I’d say if the labour relations that SNC are toxic, we’ve got to see that change.”
She pointed to Gary Rose of Candu as the person to help spearhead it.
“Gary knows what good, respectful labour relations look like, and he knows how to conduct himself to achieve them,” she said. “I have real, sincere hope.”