BioWare contractors want a union

A group of contractors that supports BioWare, owned by EA, tries to unite. Part of the reason is that they have to return to the office, even as full-time BioWare employees who work in the same location are offered a hybrid work-from-home option, two employees said. The edge

The organizing group is employed by Keywords Studios, a company that offers services such as quality assurance testing and localization for game development companies. An employee expects the unit to consist of 15 to 20 people.

These Keywords collaborators are directly embedded in BioWare’s team at the company’s Edmonton, Canada office, and have worked on such titles as Legendary Mass Effect Editionthe newest Star Wars The Old Republic expansion and, recently, Dragon Age 4† The sources The edge spoke for this article requested anonymity so that they could speak openly.

Based on the new mandate, the staff members of Keywords Studios will have to come to the office from May 9, employees said The edgeKotaku also reported the May 9 return to work date.

The group is also committed to problems with pay and leisure. Two Keywords Studios staffers said the company is starting to pay at minimum wage, which is $15 CAD an hour in Alberta (or just under $12 USD), which can be hard to live on. One source claimed that full-time BioWare employees are paid much more and that a previous Keywords Studios executive has taken a lower position at BioWare and earns about twice as much money.

“We definitely want to continue to provide great experiences” to fans of BioWare’s games, said one contributor. “It’s just [that] we must be able to support ourselves.”

Keywords Studios employees also do not receive paid sick days or personal days, according to two employees.

The Alberta Labor Relations Board is currently studying the group’s application to form a negotiating unit to negotiate with the company, including determining whether at least 40 percent of the people in the potential union support it. Workers must file any objections to the application by 9 a.m. May 3, but assuming it goes ahead, workers can vote to form the bargaining unit in a secret ballot. An employee expects that the votes will not actually be counted until about a month after that date of May 3, and that it will be a ballot in the mail.

The message from the Alberta Labor Relations Board.
Image: u/KeywordsUnitedYEG on r/alberta

Keywords Studios employees have seen what they see as management retaliation in response to organizational efforts, sources told The edge and Kotaku† “Some of our more outspoken members were disciplined by the company,” someone said shortly after the application was filed last Wednesday.

But sources The edge spoke stressed that they respect their BioWare colleagues. “The workers at the BioWare studios treated us very well. We don’t really have anything bad to say about the people we work with. Obviously it reflects on EA using Keywords as a service,” said one. But real individuals in the studio have “been pretty good to us”.

The group’s organization follows recent union efforts by quality workers at Raven Software, an Activision Blizzard studio known for its work on the Duty series. The Raven workers just took a big win last week when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the unit voting to form a union would consist of 21 workers rather than the much larger group that Activision Blizzard had argued for.

“Raven Software was actually a huge inspiration for us,” said a Keywords employee. “We saw, ‘Hey, these guys are also taking over one of the biggest companies in the world. We can stand up and do the same.’”

EA and Keywords Studios did not respond to requests for comment.

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