Why BioWare Contractors in Canada Try to Get Organized

Quality assurance workers hired by contractor Keywords Studios, whose customers include BioWare, were motivated to organize a union because of an order to return to the office that would mean hundreds of dollars in commuting costs for employees who mostly earn the minimum wage, told one of the organizers. Polygon.

Last week, Alberta, Canada’s Labor Relations Board, Keywords Studios announced that its Edmonton QA staff was organizing under the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union, Local No. 401, to be their collective bargaining agent. Tuesday, May 3, is the deadline for their employer to object to union formation. Assuming there is none, a poll should be scheduled within two weeks, and if 51% of keyword testers vote yes, they will start negotiating a contract.

Keywords would be the second video game developer in North America to have workers organized in a collective bargaining unit. Twenty-one Raven Software QA workers in Wisconsin began voting Friday on whether to form a union called the Game Workers Alliance. These votes are counted in May. 23.

Keywords Studios, founded in 1998, is headquartered in Ireland and has more than 20 offices worldwide. Keyword Studios in Edmonton is managed by the company’s British Columbia office. Keywords provides technical services in the fields of art, sound, 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 clientele.

One of Keywords’ organizers, who asked not to be identified as “our management does not know who is involved in the effort at present,” said their vote could involve between 15 and 20 employees, pending a Labor Board review of qualified positions. Either way, this organizer is “strongly convinced that we will achieve a union. We should be able to easily overcome that [vote threshold]. “

The organizer said the actions of the Raven workers, well publicized in the gaming press, were a bit of an inspiration, mainly by showing them that it was possible to act. The real reason for starting a union, they said, stemmed from dissatisfaction with low wages and then a return to work that would add significant monthly parking fees and other commuting costs to a job that still pays them the same wages as it was. just a few weeks ago.

“Our entry level testers start at minimum wage,” which in Alberta is $ 15 CA per hour. “A one-bedroom apartment costs about $ 1,000 here in Edmonton. Paid twice a month, the organizer expected many of their colleagues to take home between $ 950 and $ 970 each payslip.

Meanwhile, workers in other departments, according to the organizers, have gained more flexibility.

“While our study colleagues at BioWare, they get a little more of a hybrid model, flex hours or permanent opportunities to work from home, it was not right to afford us,” said the organizer. “So some of our members felt that we might have a little more conversation about this.”

Public parking, which workers are expected to cover themselves, costs between $ 250 and $ 350 a month, they said. “That’s before you buy groceries for yourself and all the other expenses,” they said. Workers had avoided this and other commuting costs of working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic emptied offices in the spring of 2020.

The organizer said they have been working for Keywords for two years and got a pay raise of $ 16.50 an hour, but they, like most of the workers who would vote for a union, started their test jobs during the pandemic and have not gone in. at BioWare’s office to work with its developers. Over the past two years, Keywords QA in Edmonton has helped Mass effect: Legendary Editionwhich was launched in May last year, as well as the Legacy of the Sith expansion that was launched for Star Wars: The Old Republic this February. Keywords QA staff are currently working on the next Dragon Age, the organizer said.

“Many of our individuals have things like student loans,” they said. “Just like down in the United States, post-secondary education is not free up here either.” They said most of their colleagues had four-year college degrees, and those who had not likely studied at a technical school. The University of Alberta, a reputable public university located in Edmonton, is often a feeder to the local technology industry, including game development.

“It really resonated with many of our members that we’re considered unskilled labor – the minimum wage you can sit and play video games all day, right?” said the organizer. “But I think the reality that most people do not understand is how high-tech the QA industry is, and a lot of these people who work on our team, it’s people who come out of university with computer science. degrees and just trying to get started in the industry.

“They are very talented individuals who create enormous wealth for their employer at the expense of themselves,” they added.