Edmonton video game workers vote to unionize, an industry first in Canada

In an industry first in Canada, 16 Edmonton video game development workers voted to unionize.

Organizing efforts for the video game development industry have been rare despite decades of stories of abusive working conditions. Although more common outside of the United States and Canada, there are only two unions in North America in video game development.

This is now complemented by a QA team from Keywords Studios, based in Ireland.

The 16 Edmonton workers voted unanimously to unionize through the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, the union said in a news release Monday.

“Workplace frustrations are widespread throughout this industry, and it has become clear that workers need to unionize to address these issues,” UFCW Local 401 President Thomas Hesse said in the statement. .

“We are proud to be part of these pioneering efforts in North America. »

Keywords Studios is present in 23 countries and has more than 9,000 employees.

The Edmonton team is under contract with game developer BioWare, famous for the Mass Effect and dragon age series.

A statement posted on the Keywords Studios website indicates that the company accepts the results of the vote.

“We value our employees and will continue to constantly strive to be a good employer,” it read. “As an organization, we want to ensure an engaging experience for all of our employees, and we take all of our staff’s concerns seriously. »

Contract negotiations

Felix Martinez, a UFCW national representative, said the next step will be to create proposals and begin negotiations for the workers’ first contract.

“The fact that it’s 100% is always very exciting and it’s also very clear – it gives us a lot of leverage to negotiate,” he said.

“The employer knows that the workers are 100% in it, so it opens up a lot of negotiation possibilities. »

Employees previously told CBC News that the main reasons for the organizing effort were a substantial wage gap between contract workers and those employed directly by BioWare doing similar work and a mandatory back-to-work order that has since been rescinded. .

“It sort of resolved itself before the vote,” Martinez said. “But putting things in writing and codifying existing things that people like is definitely going to be part of [negotiations]. »

The Alberta Labor Relations Board is expected to issue a certificate 24 hours after the outcome of the vote is communicated to the affected parties.

The first game developer union in North America was formed last year at Vodeo Games, a small independent studio whose employees work remotely in Canada and the United States.

A second union was formed this year for the Wisconsin-based Raven Software QA department, which worked on the Call of Duty franchise.

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