Vancouver, Canada animation artists who worked on hit cg feature Sausage Party were handed a major victory this week from the Canadian government after the British Columbia Employment Standards Branch ruled that workers were entitled to receive overtime pay for their work on the 2016 film.

“We’re extremely pleased with the decision,” said Jennifer Moreau, secretary-treasurer at Unifor Local 2000, the union that filed the legal complaint on behalf of the film’s non-unionized workers. “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.”

Unifor filed the complaint two-and-a-half years ago, following allegations that first surfaced on Cartoon Brew’s comments section from animators who claimed they had not been paid overtime for their work on the film.

The B.C. Employment Standards Branch ruling requires Nitrogen (now owned by Cinesite) to open its books and pay any outstanding overtime along with a nominal $500 fine. A PDF of the government ruling can be read HERE.

In response to the complaint, Cinesite had originally claimed that employees were not entitled to the overtime pay specified in the province’s Employment Standards Act, because animation artists were high-technology professionals developing information systems. The Employment Standard Branch’s investigating officer, however, ruled that the exclusion did not apply to studio workers whose primary job was using commercially available software to create visual effects.

According to Unifor, the high-tech exclusion is used often by animation, vfx, and gaming studios in British Columbia as a loophole to exempt them from the province’s rules on work hours, overtime, and statutory holidays.

Currently, not a single animation, vfx, or gaming studio in Vancouver is unionized, but different initiatives by unions like Unifor and IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) are working to change that situation. “If we can do this for non-union workers, imagine what animators could do if they unionized and negotiated their own contract,” Moreau said.

On Wednesday, March 27, a townhall is being held for Titmouse Vancouver workers to explain the benefits of unionization. If you work at the studio, you can register to attend HERE. The event is organized by the Art Babbitt Appreciation Society, a group of artists in Vancouver who are working to improve the working conditions at local studios.

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