Video game workers in Edmonton vote to organize, an industry first in Canada

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

Despite decades of stories of abusive working conditions, there have been few union organizing efforts for the video game development industry. While they are more common outside of the United States and Canada, there are only two video game development unions in North America.

Added to that number is a quality assurance team from Keywords Studios, based in Ireland.

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

“Workplace frustrations are rampant in this industry and it has become clear that workers need to unionize to address these issues,” Thomas Hesse, president of UFCW Local 401, said in the release.

“We are proud to be part of this groundbreaking effort in North America.”

Keywords Studios operates in 23 countries and employs more than 9,000 people.

The Edmonton team has a deal with game developer BioWare, famous for the mass effect and dragon time Series.

A statement posted on Keywords Studios’ website says the company accepts the voting results.

“We value our employees and will continue to strive to be a good employer,” it says. “As an organization, we want to provide an engaging experience for all of our employees, and we take any concerns our employees have seriously.”

contract negotiations

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

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

“The employer knows that the employees are 100 per cent there, so it opens up a lot of negotiation opportunities.”

Employees previously told CBC News the main reasons for the union organizing effort were a significant pay gap between contract workers and those employed directly by BioWare in similar jobs, and a mandatory return to work that has since been lifted.

“That was done before the vote,” Martinez said. “But definitely part of that is going to be putting things in writing and codifying existing things that people like [negotiations].”

The Alberta Labor Relations Board is expected to issue a certificate 24 hours after the voting result has been communicated to the parties involved.

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

A second union was formed this year for the Quality Assurance department at Raven Software of Wisconsin, which worked on the call of Duty Franchise.

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