British Columbia

Animators win battle for overtime pay against Vancouver studio

The complaint was filed on behalf of non-unionized animators who worked on the Seth Rogen film, Sausage Party, in August 2016.

'It's a huge deal'

This image, released by Sony Pictures, shows a scene from Sausage Party, a comedy written by Vancouver-born actor Seth Rogen. The animation studio behind the film has been ordered to pay overtime to animators who worked on the movie. (The Associated Press)

Animators who worked long hours without overtime pay have won their years-long fight against an animation studio in Vancouver.

The complaint was filed on behalf of non-unionized animators who worked on the Seth Rogen film, Sausage Party, in August 2016.

The filing said Nitrogen Studios hadn't paid animators overtime for the lengthy shifts spent creating the comedy.

The B.C. Employment Standards Branch disagreed with the studio's defence and ordered the company to pay the workers what they should've been paid, as well as a $500 fine.

"If you work in the industry, it's a really big deal," said Jennifer Moreau, secretary-treasurer with Unifor Local 2000, which filed the third-party complaint on the animators' behalf.

High-tech professionals

Responding to the workers' complaint at the time, Nitrogen Studios claimed it didn't have to pay overtime because the animators were "high-technology professionals."

Under B.C.'s Employment Standards Act, those workers — someone who primarily uses specialized knowledge and skills to develop information systems, technological processes and products or to engage in research — are exempt from overtime pay.

The officer investigating the Sausage Party complaint didn't agree with the argument, saying the exclusion didn't apply to the animators because their primary job of creating visual effects involved using software that's already commercially available.

Moreau said it's common for studios to use the "high-tech professionals" classification as a "loophole" to avoid paying animators overtime.

"It's rarely challenged," Moreau said.

"That's the big deal about this story: it's not so much that they're getting overtime," she continued. "It's because [it means employers] can't use that loophole anymore ... That means every other studio that thinks they can get around the rules on paying overtime, they're going to have to think twice about it before they claim their employees are high tech."

In a statement to CBC News on Monday, Cinesite, which now owns Nitrogen Studios, said it will be "fully co-operating" with the branch.

"The B.C. employment legal action was launched prior to this change of ownership [in 2017] and on behalf of some artists working in the studio under previous Nitrogen management," the statement read.

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

Animators, visual effects artists or video game developers aren't currently represented by a union in Vancouver — a city that has become an internationally recognized industry hub in recent years.

Moreau said Unifor has been campaigning to unionize workers in the industry for years.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story mistakenly attributed a defence against the complaint to Cinesite. In fact, the defence was made by Nitrogen Studios before it was acquired by Cinesite.
    Apr 01, 2019 7:15 AM PT

With files from Matt Meuse

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