'Sausage Party' Animators' Pay Dispute Prompts Union Complaint

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Animators piped up on a trade blog earlier in August about getting denied overtime pay.

A Canadian labor union has filed a complaint against the animation house behind Sausage Party for allegedly failing to pay its animators sufficient overtime for their work on the film.

Local Unifor 2000, a Vancouver-based union representing around 1,200 media workers, on Friday filed the complaint against Nitrogen Studios with British Columbia's Employment Standards Branch, a union rep told The Hollywood Reporter.

"We are aware of serious allegations that Nitrogen did not pay some of its animators overtime, and we’ve formally asked the Employment Standards Branch to investigate,” Jennifer Moreau, vice president of Unifor Local 2000, said in a statement. “Many of these animators are too scared to come forward — that’s why we’ve filed the third party complaint."

Animators who spoke with THR last week about the payment claims said they didn't want to go on record for fear of being blacklisted in Vancouver's tight-knit animation community. Several animators also said they were denied a credit in the film for voicing their frustrations about not getting paid.

None of Vancouver's animation studios are currently unionized, the Unifor statement said. Instead, most animators work on contract.

The pay dispute first emerged in the comments section of a recent interview with Sausage Party directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan on the website Cartoon Brew. After the directors talked about making the movie on the cheap, the comments section lit up with complaints from users who identified themselves as both credited and uncredited animators.

The issue of Vancouver animation artists having to work long hours to meet deadlines, and with unpaid overtime, is not new.

IATSE Local 891 in British Columbia has long worked to organize local animators, explaining workplace rights under the province's Employment Standards regulations.

A long-standing complaint has been a designation of animation artists, and especially 3D artists, under British Columbia Employment Standards as “high technology professionals."

Unifor's Moreau says that loophole allows employers to set work schedules greater than 40 hours a week without offering proper overtime pay, minimum daily pay rates and time off. 

"There are exemptions from the employment standards act if you are considered a high-tech worker. That means the employer wouldn't have to pay overtime," Moreau told THR.

"One of the animators that worked on Sausage Party told us that many companies claim their workers are high-tech, not entertainment, as a way to get around things like paying overtime," she added.

Concerns over local workplace conditions follows Vancouver establishing itself as a rival to Los Angeles for animation production, with leading local studio players like Bardel Entertainment, Atomic Cartoons, DHX Media, Nerd Corps Entertainment and Slap Happy Cartoons.

The city's animation credits include TV series like Spiderman and Heavy Gear and such animated features as Escape From Planet Earth and Clockwork Girl.