Skip to main content

Unionized video-game workers at Edmonton rally decry unfair treatment following layoffs

Supporters of striking video-game workers rallying outside Edmonton's Epcor Tower on Nov. 7, 2023. (Matt Marshall/CTV News Edmonton) Supporters of striking video-game workers rallying outside Edmonton's Epcor Tower on Nov. 7, 2023. (Matt Marshall/CTV News Edmonton)

The first video game industry workers in Canada to unionize on Tuesday staged a rally in downtown Edmonton asking for fairer treatment from the company that laid them off.

The workers for Irish company Keywords Studios, who are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, voted unanimously late last month in favour of strike action.

"What we have seen from that company is a real effort to try and get rid of the union, get rid of these workers and not respect their rights to unionize, get a first contract and look at improving the gaming industry and the working conditions that are there for all workers," Chris O'Halloran, the executive director of UFCW Local 401, told CTV News Edmonton at the rally outside the Epcor Tower, which houses BioWare's Edmonton office.

The workers, who joined UFCW in the summer to become the first in Canada's video-game industry to be unionized, were laid off by Keywords Studios in September during negotiations for an initial collective bargaining agreement.

The workers previously worked on quality assurance and testing through Keywords for Edmonton-based BioWare, the developer of critically acclaimed games series Mass Effect and Dragon Age and a subsidiary of major industry firm Electronic Arts.

The union has filed an unfair labour practice complaint at the Alberta Labour Relations Board. When the workers unionized, they cited conditions such as low wages and lack of benefits, among others, for spurring the decision.

O'Halloran said the present issue the union is fighting at the labour board is that Keywords Studios chose not to give the unionized workers work while posting numerous positions in earnest.

"Keywords has chosen to union-bust and laid all the workers off, said 'We have no more work for you.' Meanwhile, their website has hundreds of postings out there right now," O'Halloran said. "When we testified in front of the labour board, we were able to put up 40 different jobs that these workers could be doing and this work could be given to these workers. This company is just choosing to not respect the workers' rights and the law here in Alberta and give them work."

CTV News Edmonton contacted Keywords Studios for comment but has yet to receive a response.

Last year, Keywords said it accepted the vote to unionize by 16 Edmonton workers.

"We value our people and will continue to constantly strive to be a good employer," the company said in a June 2022 statement. "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."

In a statement to CTV News Edmonton, BioWare said while it hopes Keywords Studios and the workers can "resolve their differences," it is their view "that any activities targeting our offices are misguided as Bioware is not involved in any way in the negotiations and Epcor Tower has never been a place of employment for Keywords employees."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Matt Marshall Top Stories

Stay Connected