QA officers employed by contractor Keywords Studios, whose clients include BioWare, have been motivated to organize a union due to a back-to-office order that would mean hundreds of dollars in travel costs for employees working mostly for minimum wage, said one of the organizers. Polygon.
Last week, the Alberta Canada Labor Relations Board informed Keywords Studios that its Edmonton QA employees organized under the United Food and Commercial Workers Union of Canada, Local No. 401, to be their collective bargaining agent. Tuesday, May 3 is the deadline for their employer to file any objections to the formation of the union. Assuming there isn’t, a vote should be scheduled within two weeks, and if 51% of keyword testers vote yes, they’ll start negotiating a contract.
Keywords would be the second video game developer in North America to have workers organized into a collective bargaining unit. Twenty-one Raven Software QA employees, located in Wisconsin, began voting Friday on whether to form a union called the Game Workers Alliance. These votes will be counted in May. 23.
Keywords Studios, founded in 1998, is headquartered in Ireland and has over 20 offices worldwide. Keywords Studios in Edmonton is managed by the company‘s British Columbia office. Keywords provides technical services in the areas of art, audio, game development, localization and quality assurance, but does not develop or publish games itself. BioWare, owned by Electronic Arts since 2007, is among several AAA studios and publishers in the company’s customer base.
One of the Keywords organizers, who asked not to be identified as “our management doesn’t know who is involved in the effort at this point,” said their vote could involve between 15 and 20 employees, pending a Labor Board review of eligible positions. . Anyway, this organizer is “extremely confident that we will achieve a union. We should be able to easily overcome this [vote threshold].”
The organizer said the actions of the Raven workers, well publicized in the gaming press, were something of an inspiration, mostly showing them that it was possible to take action. The real reason for forming a union, they said, stems from dissatisfaction with low wages and then a back-to-work policy that will add hefty monthly parking fees and other travel costs to a job that still pays them the same salary it was. only a few weeks ago.
“Our entry-level testers start at minimum wage,” which in Alberta is CA$15 an hour. “A one-bedroom apartment costs about $1,000 here in Edmonton. Paid twice a month, the organizer estimated that many of their co-workers brought in between $950 and $970 per paycheck.
Meanwhile, according to organizers, workers in other departments have been given greater flexibility.
“While our studio counterparts at BioWare benefit from a bit more of a hybrid model, flexible hours, or permanent work-from-home options, that wasn’t really offered to us,” said the organizer. “So some of our members felt that maybe we could have a little more conversation about that.”
Public parking, which workers are expected to cover themselves, costs between $250 and $350 a month, they said. “That’s before you buy yourself groceries and all the other expenses,” they said. Workers had avoided this and other travel costs by working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic emptied offices in the spring of 2020.
The organizer said they had worked for Keywords for two years and got a raise to $16.50 an hour, but they, like most workers who would vote for a union, started their test work during the pandemic and did not go into BioWare’s office to work alongside its developers. Over the past two years, Keywords QA in Edmonton has helped Mass Effect: Legendary Editionwhich launched last May, as well as the Legacy of the Sith expansion which launched for Star Wars: The Old Republic this February. Currently, Keywords QA employees are working on the next Dragon Age, the organizer said.
“A lot of our individuals have things like student loans,” they said. “Just like in the United States, post-secondary education isn’t free here either.” They said most of their colleagues had a four-year college degree and those who probably didn’t had a technical college education. The University of Alberta, a well-regarded public university in Edmonton, often fuels the local tech industry, including game development.
“It really resonated with a lot of our members that we’re considered unskilled labor – minimum wage, you can sit around and play video games all day, right? ” says the organizer. “But I think the reality that most people don’t understand is how highly technical the QA industry is, and a lot of those people who work on our team, they’re people who coming out of college with computer science degrees and just trying to get into the industry.
“These are very talented people who create immense wealth for their employer, at the expense of themselves,” they added.