SNC-Lavalin accused of spying on employees during labour negotiations, according to union

Several Candu employees received an automatic "out of office" response from one of SNC's labour relations managers, Dana Duncan, when they emailed union staff concerning a new collective bargaining agreement. However, they did not include her email address in the original correspondence.

SNC-Lavalin accused of spying on employees during labour negotiations, according to union
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During recent collective bargaining negotiations, the union representing SNC-Lavalin employees accused the engineering and construction giant of surveilling its members.

According to a recent report from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), companies offering workplace surveillance technologies have experienced a sustained surge in demand from employers.

Companies routinely monitor employee communications on work devices — an increasingly popular trend during the pandemic and the rise of remote work. 

However, the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates (SPEA) has accused SNC of targeting email communications between employees and their union representatives. Some of these exchanges took place during the last round of collective bargaining.

"Our members use their work emails to communicate with us all the time. That has been common practice for years at this company. We did not think they would start spying on those communications," said Denise Coombs, a staff representative at SPEA.

The alleged monitoring involves employees of Candu Energy Inc., the nuclear energy company subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin. The SPEA represents nearly 900 Candu Energy employees, mostly scientists, engineers and technicians.

On December 1, 2021, several Candu employees received an automatic "out of office" response from one of SNC's labour relations managers, Dana Duncan, when they emailed SPEA staff concerning a new collective bargaining agreement. However, they did not include her email address in the original correspondence.

SNC refused to investigate the issue and questioned using corporate emails to communicate union matters.

In an internal memo dated December 21, 2021, the corporate giant said union communications should be done with private email addresses and not on corporate time.

SNC also sent SPEA a letter stating they would soon block emails sent to SPEA using company accounts. The union filed an unfair labour practice complaint last year, accusing SNC of unlawful interference with union matters.

In an emailed statement to the Globe and Mail, SNC-Lavalin spokesperson Laurence Myre Leroux said the company monitored employee emails between 2019 and early 2022 as part of an internal audit related to a complaint it received about "inappropriate" emails sent by one of its employees. 

Leroux claimed the audit focused on transferring "confidential company information" but could not disclose anything further due to "contractual confidentiality obligations." 

However, they did not address whether they monitored employee emails during collective-bargaining negotiations or why they banned employees from emailing their union representatives using work email accounts.

Michelle Duncan, an SPEA staff representative, believes SNC spied on these communications to have an advantage in the bargaining process.

The tension between SNC-Lavalin and SPEA escalated earlier this year when the company placed two Candu employees on paid administrative leave for allegedly sending classified information to a third party. 

The union — which has filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the board regarding the paid administrative leave — believes SNC is deliberately punishing employees who communicated with the union before the 2021 ban.

"The employer's long-term goal is to hamstring SPEA by starving us of information we need to represent our members and police our jurisdiction," Coombs told members on January 20 regarding the suspensions.

Two employees remain on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the internal audit, confirmed Leroux.

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  • By Ezra Levant

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