Canadian QA testers organize after return-to-office order piles on cost

Quality assurance officers employed by contractor Keywords Studios, whose clients include BioWare, were motivated to organize a union because a return-to-office order would mean hundreds of dollars in costs. Travel for those employees is mostly minimum wage, one of the organizers said Polygon.

Last week, the Alberta, Canada Labor Relations Board notified Keywords Studios that their Edmonton QA employees are organizing under the Canadian Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 401, to act as their representative. their collective bargaining. Tuesday, May 3 is the deadline for their employers to file any objections to union formation. Assuming none, a vote will be scheduled within two weeks and if 51% of Keyword testers vote yes, they will begin contract negotiations.

Keywords will be the second video game developer in North America to organize workers into a collective bargaining unit. The 21 workers of Raven Software QA, in Wisconsin, began voting on Friday on whether to form a union called the Game Workers Union. Those votes will count in May. 23.

Keyword Studios, founded in 1998, is headquartered in Ireland and has over 20 offices worldwide. Keywords Studios in Edmonton are managed by the company’s British Columbia office. Keyword provides technical services for art, sound, game development, localization, and quality assurance, but does not develop or publish the game itself. BioWare, owned by Electronic Arts since 2007, is one of several AAA studios and publishers in the company’s clientele.

One of Keyword’s organizers, who asked to remain anonymous “our management is unaware of anyone involved in the effort at this time,” said their vote could involve from 15 to 20 employees, waiting for the Labor Department to consider qualified positions. Despite that, the organizer is “very confident that we will strike an alliance. We should be able to get through this easily [vote threshold]. ”

The organizer said the Raven workers’ actions, which were widely publicized in the game press, were partly an inspiration, mainly to show them that action could be taken. The real reason for unionization, they say, was dissatisfaction with low wages, and then a return-to-work policy that would add significant monthly parking and travel expenses. another so that a job still pays them the same salary. just a few weeks ago.

“Our entry-level testers start at minimum wage,” in Alberta it is C$15 an hour. “A one-bedroom apartment here is about $1,000 in Edmonton. Paid twice monthly, the organizer calculates that many of their colleagues take home between $950 and $970 per paycheck.

Meanwhile, according to organizers, workers in other departments have been given more flexibility.

“While our studio partners at BioWare, they’re getting a bit more of a hybrid model, flexible hours, or permanent work-from-home options, but that doesn’t really work for us. me,” said the organizer. “So some of our members felt that maybe we could chat a little bit more about this.”

They said public parking, which workers have to take care of themselves, costs between $250 and $350 a month. “That’s before you buy groceries and all the other expenses,” they say. Workers have been avoiding this and other commuting costs by working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic hit offices in spring 2020.

The organizer said they worked for Keywords for two years and got a raise to $16.50 an hour, but they, like most workers who vote for a union, have already started the job. testing during the pandemic and not going into BioWare’s office to work alongside its developers. Over the past two years, Keyword Quality in Edmonton has supported Block effect: Legendary Editionreleased last May, as well as the Legacy of the Sith expansion that came out for Star Wars: The Old Republic this February. Currently, Keywords QA workers are working on the next Dragon Age, the organizer said.

“Many of our individuals have things like student loans,” they said. “Just like in the United States, post-secondary education is not free here either.” They said most of their colleagues have four-year college degrees, and those who are unlikely to have attended a technical college. The University of Alberta, a highly regarded public university in Edmonton, is often the focal point for the local tech industry, including game development.

“It really resonated with a lot of our members that we are considered unskilled workers – minimum wage, you can sit around all day playing video games, right?” organizers said. “But I think the reality that most people don’t understand is how highly technical the QA industry is, and a lot of the individuals working on our team are coming out of college with science degrees. learning computer and just trying to get started in the industry.

They add: “They are highly talented individuals who are creating immense wealth for their owners, at their own expense. Canadian QA testers organize after return-to-office order piles on cost

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