Keywords Studios wants to redefine scope of unionizing workers’ bargaining unit



Unionizing BioWare Edmonton contractors employed by Keywords Studios got a mix of good and bad news this week. The good news is that Keywords has rescinded its “return to office” policy for contractors, and is offering more flexible time for employees. 

The bad news is that the company is challenging the Alberta Labour Relations Board’s decision to reclassify the union’s proposed bargaining unit to include all Alberta-based employees. 

A representative from Edmonton Local QA shared this information with Game Developer, and included a notice from the Labour Board that recommended all employees be included in the unit. They also indicated that the favorable policy changes were “presumably” to try and persuade employees to not vote “yes” on the union.

This is sort of an inverse situation to what took place at Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software last month (though to be clear, there’s different rules in effect because these efforts took place in different countries). In that case, Activision Blizzard demanded that the bargaining unit created by Raven Software QA workers be expanded to include the whole company in a unionization vote. 

In Alberta, Keywords is apparently attempting to argue that the union should only consist of employees in development support of BioWare Edmonton. The union representative said workers welcomed the bargaining unit expansion, as it would allow non-QA contractors employed by Keywords in the region (including a graphic artist and motion capture technician) to benefit from collective bargaining. 

“We hope to be able to include them with us as we feel together we can obtain more equitable treatment,” they explained.

All Keywords contractors in Alberta are being participated to invite in the unionization vote. If the Board rules that the bargaining unit would remain restricted to BioWare Edmonton contractors, the votes from employees not part of that group would be destroyed.

It’s a serious case of déja vu to watch the same tactics from Activision Blizzard’s response to Raven Software unionization efforts manifest here, though seemingly with different purpose. Any developers seeking to unionize at their companies should be aware that their employer might contest the size of their bargaining unit, as we’ve now seen cross-border efforts to stymie efforts using that tactic.

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