Former Keywords Studios employees who unionised as Keywords Edmonton United before being laid off in October 2023 will picket BioWare Edmonton on 7 November 2023. The group had been working on QA for BioWare’s Dragon Age: Dreadwolf and other titles until the conclusion of a fixed-term contract, and were reportedly laid off by Keywords as there was “no more work available”.
A union spokesperson told Game Developer and other media the upcoming protests are motivated by a belief that employees were terminated unfairly, and that the decision to end their contract was inspired by unionisation efforts. To that end, workers will protest outside BioWare Edmonton, and argue for being re-instated by Keywords.
While it was Keywords that initiated the layoffs, the Alberta Labour Relations Board has ruled the planned picketing lawful, as workers were under contract with BioWare and considered a part of their workforce. EA and BioWare reportedly tried to block the picket, but were unsuccessful, as the Board ruled that even remote employees have a right to picket their employer’s office.
“We view this Labour Board ruling as a huge win for not just us, but remote workers everywhere in Canada,” union representative James Russwurm said. “Workers can now go ‘oh, I can picket my employer’s offices downtown even though I didn’t work in the office.”
According to reporting from Game Developer, EA and BioWare had suggested that the nature of work carried out by former Keywords employees should legally mean they picket outside their own homes, and not EA offices.
In response, the union successfully argued that Keywords QA testers had a stake in Bioware’s offices, as they used software to remotely access computers inside these offices, and because they would have been attendees of the office if not for COVID-19 pandemic conditions.
The strike will now go ahead as planned, with former Keywords employees attending the BioWare offices on 7 November. “We’re going to be out there, getting the word out, and even talking to BioWare employees coming and out of the building that might be interested in unionisation,” Russwurm said. “That’s more of our focus than actual disruption.”
Per Kotaku, EA remains opposed to the picket, and maintains the former staff of Keywords should place their energy elsewhere.
“We hope that Keywords and the union are able to resolve their differences but ultimately Bioware has no role in that process,” an EA spokesperson told Kotaku of the planned strike. “It is our 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.”