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Pixar’s Ed Catmull Emerges As Central Figure In The Wage-Fixing Scandal

Pixar and Disney Animation president Ed Catmull has always had a reputation as a decent person, but newly revealed court documents show that he’s been working against the interests of Pixar’s employees for years, as well as trying to hurt other animation studios who didn’t play by his rules. The documents in question are from last year’s civil class-action suit against high-tech companies. (The lawsuit, which included Pixar and Lucasfilm as defendants, was the result of a 2010 U.S. Department of Justice anti-trust action.)

Catmull’s deposition and emails from the lawsuit confirm that he was instrumental in operating a secret wage-theft cartel that violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. But it’s even worse than you think. The cartel orchestrated in large part by Catmull robbed potential wages and job opportunities from thousands of animation industry workers at other studios, including DreamWorks, Lucasfilm, Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers, the now-defunct Orphanage, and Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Pando Daily’s Mark Ames published a piece about the documents earlier this week. Ames followed up today with another hard-hitting piece about Catmull’s callous disregard for the law in the name of profit.

Catmull’s attempts to bring Sony into his cartel are documented in today’s piece. When Sony was first starting up their animation studio to produce Open Season, they actively recruited artists from Pixar. Their actions were both fair and legal, and benefitted employees whose wages and benefits could increase by moving to Sony. Catmull’s response to Sony, however, was illegal.

He flew to Los Angeles in 2004 to meet with Sony’s animation co-presidents Penney Finkelman Cox and Sandy Rabins and pressure them to fix their employees’ wages and limit career opportunities. (Another bombshell: John Lasseter was both aware of and supported some of Catmull’s illegal activities.) Sony, to their credit, declined to participate in the wage-fixing syndicate and continued to recruit freely.

Catmull, however, didn’t forget. In 2007, after Pixar had been purchased by Disney, he told Disney Studios president Alan Bergman and Disney’s head of HR, Marjorie Randolph, that he hoped other studios in his cartel would punish Sony:

“Just this last week, we did have a recruiter working for ILM [Lucasfilm] approach some of our people. We called to complain and the recruiter immediately stopped. This kind of relationship has helped keep the peace in the Bay Area and it is important that we continue to use restraint.

“Now that Sony has announced their intentions with regard to selling part of their special effects business, and given Sony’s extremely poor behavior in its recruiting practices, I would feel very good about aggressively going after Sony people.”

Catmull was questioned about the email in his deposition:

Q: You were cheering on somebody else to go after Sony?

CATMULL: I was pissed at them. That is true.

As Catmull and other Pixar honchos and Disney got richer and richer during the CG feature animation boom, the employees’ salaries at Pixar and beyond were being artificially controlled through illegal means. With these documents, we now know that DreamWorks and Disney also undermined free market principles by colluding to restrict their employees’ wages and job opportunities. These revelations extend beyond the scope of the class-action suit, which is in the process of being settled with a paltry $9 million slap on the wrist for Pixar and Lucasfilm.

Studios like DreamWorks and Disney are union outfits, and the Animation Guild, which represents animators, has stated on Twitter that they “are consulting legal counsel to see what can be done.” The Guild’s business representative Steve Hulett hasn’t minced words, writing on their blog that “when a group of wealthy executives get together to make sure that market forces don’t perform as they might, well, people suffer. (Mostly people that have to pay rent and meet a mortgage.)”

Pando Daily has promised more coverage of the animation wage-theft cartel.

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