Video game testers accuse employer of unionbusting

According to the union, the employer refused to bargain in good faith and even intimidated workers who joined the union.

In this week’s new applications report published by the Alberta Labour Relations Board, video game workers represented by Local 401 of the United Food and Commercial Workers filed an application alleging unionbusting by the employer.

Last summer, 16 video game testers working for the Ireland-based Keywords Studios in their Edmonton location voted unanimously in favour of joining UFCW, becoming the first workers in the videogame industry to form a union in their workplace.

The workers were motivated to unionize because of what they referred to as low wages, lack of benefits (such as sick pay), and health and safety concerns amongst a forced return to the office during the pandemic.

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Keyword Studios had assigned these workers to a contract with BioWare, conducting quality assurance and testing. However, after a year of fair first collective agreement with their employer, these workers were told that BioWare had cancelled the contract.

As a result, Keyword Studios used this opportunity to lay off the recently unionized workers, instead of pivoting them to other contracts and continue bargaining on that contract.

In their application, UFCW accuses Keywords Studios as being insincere with their negotiating, claiming that engaged in only so-called “surface bargaining”, which is a form of bad-fath bargaining, when one of the parties is just negotiating on the surface, just going through the motions, but has no intention only actually negotiting a serious contract.

The union also claims that Keyword Studios “discriminated” against, “intimidated”, and “unfairly treated” some of the workers who were connected to the union.

The hearing schedule published by the Alberta Labour Relations Board has no hearing planned for this application yet.

The Alberta Labour Relations Board doesn’t archive their new applications reports, so I have included this week’s report below.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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