Canadian Union Prevails in 'Sausage Party' Animators' Pay Dispute

Sausage Party Still 1-H 2016
Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Non-union animators will be paid overtime after Local Unifor 2000 secured a favorable ruling from a government labor investigator.

Canadian non-union animators will receive overtime pay for their work on the 2016 box office hit Sausage Party, voiced by Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig and Jonah Hill and produced by Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures.

In the wake of the film's release, Local Unifor 2000 made a complaint to the British Columbia Employment Standards Branch on behalf of local animators, as it alleged the Canadian production company Nitrogen Studios failed to pay overtime and pressured artists to work extra hours for free.

The British Columbia Employment Standards Branch in a Dec. 6, 2018, decision ruled that the Sausage Party animators should be paid overtime, and that Cinesite, which acquired Nitrogen Studios in 2017, should pay a $500 fine. Jennifer Moreau, secretary-treasurer at Local 2000, on Monday cheered the labor ruling as it determined that Nitrogen Studios did not qualify to claim a high-technology exclusion that Vancouver-based studios routinely claim to make non-union employees ineligible for overtime.

"It means people will be paid properly, and studios will have to think twice before claiming their employees are high-tech and ineligible for overtime," Moreau said in a statement. U.K.-based Cinesite said the B.C. labor complaint was launched before it acquired the former Nitrogen Studios to create Cinesite Vancouver.

"Under new management, Cinesite Vancouver is fully cooperating with the B.C. Employment Standards Branch to provide historical data where possible as requested. Employee welfare is at the center of our business in Vancouver and we wish all past employees of Nitrogen well," the company said in a statement.

Rodney Strandberg, a delegate of the Director of Employment Standards, in his ruling argued Nitrogen Studios failed to adequately prove it could use the legal loophole that allows local animation studios to set work schedules greater than 40 hours a week without offering proper overtime pay, minimum daily pay rates and time off for its artists.

"The employer has not shown through cogent, relevant and reliable evidence that its employees, including its animators, and their activities when working, fall within the definition of a 'high technology professional,'" he wrote.

Responding to the Sausage Party complaint, Nitrogen Studios argued it could avoid paying overtime under the Employment Standards Act because its employees were high-technology professionals developing information systems. Strandberg ruled the exclusion did not apply to workers whose main job was using commercially available software to create visual effects, rather than develop animation software.

The successful Canadian union complaint over local workplace conditions follows Vancouver establishing itself as a rival to Los Angeles for animation production.

March 25, 12:50 p.m. Updated with a statement by U.K.-based Cinesite in response to the British Columbia labor ruling over the former Nitrogen Studios.