Members of Canada’s first video game industry union vote in favour of strike action

Employee working on artwork at BioWare's Edmonton office. Global News

Video game industry workers in Edmonton have voted unanimously in favour of strike action.

The Edmonton workers at Irish company Keywords Studios, who are represented by UFCW Canada Local 401, made history in summer 2022 by becoming the first video game industry union in Canada.

They were laid off last month amid efforts to negotiate their first collective agreement that had gone on for over a year.

The team had been working on quality assurance and testing for Edmonton-based developer BioWare, which is owned by American video game giant Electronic Arts.

BioWare, which is behind the critically acclaimed Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, declined to renew its contract with the Edmonton team, which the union says resulted in the layoffs.

The president of UFCW Canada Local 401 says in a statement that the strike “is about holding the company to account rather than allowing them to abandon the collective bargaining process.”

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“The video game industry is wrought with poor working conditions including instances of work weeks of up to 80 hours or more for extended periods of time,” said Thomas Hesse.

The union has filed an unfair labour practice complaint at the Alberta Labour Relations Board.

Pablo Godoy, Western Canada director for UFCW Canada, said in an email that the complaint was filed, in part, because the union felt Keywords “engaged in surface bargaining with little to no intention to negotiate a contract” and did not provide appropriate notice that the contract was being cancelled.

Keywords Studios did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The union had a rally planned outside BioWare’s Edmonton office on Tuesday.

Godoy said at the time of the layoffs that Keywords Studios should have explored ways to pivot the team to other projects rather than issue layoff notices as they worked toward a collective agreement.

At the time of unionizing, workers cited low wages, lack of benefits and more.

Keywords Studios said in June 2022 following the vote to unionize that it accepted the vote.

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“We value our people and will continue to constantly strive to be a good employer,” the company said in a statement at the time. “As an organization we want to ensure an engaging experience for all of our employees, and we take any concerns that our staff have seriously.

“We will continue to have an ongoing dialogue with all individuals in the Edmonton team, as we move forward together, always learning and improving.”

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