Province rules in favour of ‘Sausage Party’ animators over overtime dispute

Vancouver-born comedian Seth Rogen at the premiere of "Sausage Party" in 2016 with Lauren Miller Rogen, who provided voice work for the animated film | Shutterstock

What happened: Vancouver animation studio fined and ordered to pay animators overtime for work on Seth Rogen movie

Why it matters: Province pushes back against argument animators are “high technology professionals” and therefore exempt from overtime rules

B.C.’s Employment Standards Branch has ruled in favour of local animators who didn’t receive overtime pay for work on Seth Rogen’s 2016 comedy Sausage Party.

Cinesite Vancouver Inc. (formerly Nitrogen Studios Canada Inc.) has been hit with a $500 fine and ordered to compensate B.C. animators for unpaid overtime work, according to a December decision.

The animation studio had argued it was exempt from certain requirements under the Employment Standards Act because it was a “high technology company” employing “high technology professionals.”

Nitrogen pointed to animators’ use of software and computers to produce animations as evidence they should be considered high-tech workers.

Rodney J. Strandberg, delegate of the director of employment standards, determined that not every employee using technology for their work is considered a high-tech professional.

“If this were correct, every employee using in his or her employment, a computer, telephone, or motor vehicle would fall within the exemption,” he said in his decision.

“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."

Unifor Local 2000 filed the complaint on behalf of the non-unionized animators in August 2016.

“We’re extremely pleased with the decision,” Jennifer Moreau, secretary-treasurer at Unifor Local 2000, said in a statement.

“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.”

Cinesite acquired Nitrogen Studios in March 2017, before the action was launched against the local studio.

The new parent company said in a statement to Business in Vancouver that it’s fully co-operating with the B.C. Employment Standards Branch and providing “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,” the statement said.