News / Vancouver

Union files complaint over Sausage Party animators' claims

Nitrogen Studios under fire over alleged workplace violations in the wake of the R-rated Seth Rogen cartoon’s release.

In this handout photo from Columbia Pictures' R-rated animated film Sausage Party, characters Brenda (Kristen Wiig), Frank (Seth Rogen) and Sammy (Ed Norton).

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

In this handout photo from Columbia Pictures' R-rated animated film Sausage Party, characters Brenda (Kristen Wiig), Frank (Seth Rogen) and Sammy (Ed Norton).

Seth Rogen’s R-rated new animated film Sausage Party is almost certainly not safe for work.

But according to a complaint filed by Canada’s largest private sector union, the $70-million-grossing blockbuster may have been “not fair for workers” either.

On Tuesday, a Unifor union organizer told Metro she filed a third-party complaint at the Employment Standards Branch against Nitrogen Studios — based in Canadian-born Rogen's own hometown, Vancouver — over allegations that some animators were not paid for their overtime work for the studio.

“Nitrogen wouldn’t be the first time we’ve heard complaints of unpaid overtime,” said Jennifer Moreau, vice-president of Unifor Local 2000, in a phone interview.

The allegations surfaced in Hollywood Reporter, which reviewed a letter signed by roughly 30 animators who worked on Sausage Party for Nitrogen. The letter alleged “unfair pressure tactics … used against the team: intimidating staff into working past official studio hours, disciplinary measures utilizing fear tactics that demotivate and cause distress (such as threatening to terminate employment).”

Moreau had since heard from one of the animators, whom she said “corroborated most of” the allegations.

“These comments are not surprising given the nature of the industry in Vancouver,” she added. “Most of these animators and visual effects workers are working on contract, they’re not unionized, and they work long hours.”

On Wednesday, a major film industry union joined the fray, reaching out online to Nitrogen contractors to offer support.

On its website, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSE) said that the Nitrogen allegations “are just the latest in a long history of (visual effects) employees enduring a lack of basic workplace standards and conditions, including non-payment of wages."

Nitrogen studios would not be interviewed Thursday, but in an email to Metro the company’s president, CEO and executive producer denied the allegations entirely.

“We have been monitoring the situation and take these allegations very seriously,” wrote Nicole Stinn, also listed as line producer for Sausage Party. “Nitrogen Studios followed all employment regulations, so the claims are unfounded. Nitrogen also fulfilled all of its contractual obligations with its employees.”

None of the allegations in the complaint letter could be independently verified by Metro. Moreau said she hoped more animators would consider coming forward.

“If any of the animators want more help on this,” she said in an email, “our doors are open.”

Have a tip? Email the reporter at david.ball@metronews.ca.

Correction (Aug. 28): This story's original headline incorrectly suggested the complaint was filed against Nitrogen Studios. In fact, the complaint called for an Employment Standards Board investigation into the allegations.

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