Ontario labour union under fire for hidden camera

Exit sign. Stock photo by Getty Images

Big union brother is watching!

­­The Ontario Federation of Labour has come under fire for putting a secret camera in an exit sign in the reception area at its union headquarters. An employee of the OFL discovered the hidden device back in July and filed a complaint.

Now, shocked and distressed OFL employees and union executives are accusing each other of wrongdoing and neither side has taken responsibility for the hi-tech espionage.

Photos were taken of the secret device that show a red light shining through the skirt of a graphic of a woman, similar to that seen on a bathroom door. It’s still unclear, however, why they would have a symbol of a woman on an exit sign.

Sid Ryan, the current OFL president, blamed Wayne Samuelson, the organization’s former president, for the hidden camera. While Ryan admitted he knew of cameras being in the building for security reasons, he said he was unaware of this hidden one.

For his part, Samuelson denied Ryan’s accusation and pointed the finger back at Ryan. “It was put in under his (Ryan’s) watch…and at the end of the day he (Ryan) spends half of his life blaming me for stuff,” he told The Toronto Star. 

While Ryan and Samuelson are busy finger-pointing, OFL secretary-treasurer, Nancy Hutchison wrote a letter to the executive board letting them know how upset and shaken employees were by this news. She conducted a preliminary investigation after learning of the spy camera, telling executives: “Many of the federation staff are now experiencing anxiety and stress due to this discovery.”

Hutchison added that one member had left work and was “unable to continue working” due to a “loss of privacy, trust and feeling of being violated.”

OFL employees have a right to feel violated. Toronto employment lawyer Natalie MacDonald told the Star there needs to be a good reason in law or “lawful justification” for installing a hidden camera. And that employers have to be acting in “good faith.”

Otherwise, these employers could be sued, because it results in their employees feeling their privacy has been violated, which in turn, can lead to a poisoned work environment. People don’t want to go into work knowing there may be cameras in the building monitoring their movements.

See: Cameras and audio tapes in the workplace

Earlier this year another hidden camera was found in a clock inside the office of a Toronto-area school principal, who was suspected of writing a book on company time.

Both of these complaints involve unionized work forces, where policies are set by collective bargaining agreements. OFL members would need to look at their CBA to see if employer video surveillance is allowed.

Even still, in order for cameras to be justified, the following questions would need to be answered:

  • Was it reasonable, in all circumstances, for management to request video surveillance of the worker?
  • Was the surveillance conducted in a reasonable manner?
  • Were other alternatives open to management to obtain the evidence sought?

Amid all the back-and-forth blaming, what is lost is that employees have been spied upon for a while and it’s a serious issue that must be resolved to the satisfaction of the employees.

Even if it’s never discovered who actually gave the order to install the camera, OFL employees need to be ensured it won’t happen again. Nobody wants to work in an Orwellian environment.
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