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A Montreal-based independent studio allegedly owes workers more than $2 million in unpaid wages.

2023-03-10  Sophia Zackary

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After not receiving pay for several months, approximately twenty employees of the independent studio Dynasty Loop in Montreal are looking for answers – and money — according to four colleagues who spoke with Polygon. People who have been impacted by the situation and numerous documents and work chats that have been reviewed by Polygon suggest that the company, which is led by CEO Rania Oueslati, owes its employees and external contractors a total of more than $2 million in unpaid wages, expenses, and bonuses. This information is supported by the documents and work chats that Polygon has reviewed. These employees told Polygon that they were requested to give in their work equipment and that they have been unable to enter the office space in Montreal. These employees were provided anonymity because they were not permitted to talk to the press. Polygon has granted these employees anonymity. They were assured by the studio that they would not be laid off; nevertheless, they have not been given a timetable for the recovery of their debt or any work to complete in the interim.

Oueslati established Dynasty Loop in 2020 intending to use the Montreal studio to work on a variety of projects, including those about the NFT and video games. According to the staff, Dynasty Loop had not made any public announcements regarding those initiatives and had been discreetly working through its design projects. Employees at the location who spoke with Polygon stated that the talented staff worked well together and that difficulties didn't start to surface until the beginning of December, following a Christmas party. Workers claim that Oueslati and management initially informed them that payments beginning in November would be delayed owing to a change in the software that Dynasty Loop uses to manage its finances. One worker told Polygon that they were unable to buy Christmas presents for their family and friends while they worked through their savings to pay for food and rent because most employees were not paid until January, and they were expected to work through the financial hardship this caused. This made for an especially difficult holiday season. Workers were also sometimes shut out of the office as well as business software like Microsoft Teams, making it more difficult to get work done, according to employees who talked with Polygon and whose statements were supported by screenshots from Dynasty Loop's Discord channel.

One of the workers told Polygon that they were required to "just keep working through it as if everything was fine." "It was very disheartening. It was difficult to concentrate.

Employees at Dynasty Loop have reported that they received a one-time payment in the form of a lump sum for this initial period of delayed payment at the beginning of January. But, no one has been paid since then. According to screenshots of the conversation that took place in Discord, the payments for January were distributed haphazardly during the first few days of the month. Workers questioned the management on Discord regarding deadlines. According to the employees, the office was momentarily opened, and users were granted access to the programme, but then everything was turned off again. Late in February, management communicated to employees that although they were required to return all equipment to Dynasty Loop, this was not a layoff. As a result of the thousands of dollars in missing pay, several workers mentioned that they were concerned about the cost of commuting to the office to return their equipment as a result of the situation. After that, there were no further instructions given to workers regarding how or when they were to continue working and, more crucially, when they would be paid for their labour.

"A good number of people were inquiring, 'Have we been fired? Are we on the chopping block? What exactly does this imply? We had quite a few inquiries in mind. Other folks lived very far away and would have to travel quite a distance to get there. "Many didn't have money for gas money or money on their OPUS [transit] cards because they hadn't been paid for such a lengthy period," one worker claimed.

According to the workers, management disclosed to them that the government had put a hold on the funds and would not release them for an indefinite period, ostensibly because of Oueslati's visa status. According to what those workers informed Polygon, the majority of employees have lodged salary grievances with Montreal's Commission on Occupational Standards, Fairness, Health and Safety (CNESST). The CNESST official who was asked for comment declined, citing the confidentiality of the organization's files and test findings.

Employees informed Polygon that they continued to work for the company despite these problems since they were making headway on their projects and trusted in the abilities of their team. According to another worker, the compensation was satisfactory when it finally arrived. According to one of the workers, Dynasty Loop continued to hire additional staff members even throughout the months in which payments were not made.

Workers said that management proposed a "lien agreement" between Oueslati and staff on February 23. This agreement was intended to ensure that anyone who signed it would get paid when funds were available, workers said, and the chat logs from Discord that were provided to Polygon corroborated their statements. (A lien can be placed on a debtor's assets to ensure that they pay their debts; liens are normally issued by the federal government or a provincial government for unpaid taxes, but individuals can also file liens under Canada's Personal Property Security Act.) The proposed agreement between Dynasty Loop and Polygon, which Polygon has read, would impose a lien on the company's assets and bank accounts until the outstanding debt of $2 million that is owed to staff and other vendors is paid in full. According to the terms of the agreement, the employees were required to wait up to six months before initiating legal action or registering complaints with CNESST. Those who signed it were also forbidden from discussing the lien or payment concerns with potential employers, the press, or on social media. The fact that the lien did not guarantee that they would be compensated is of critical importance. The lien agreement was distributed to staff on February 26, and the following day, the management of Dynasty Loop held a Q&A session with staff. Everyone was given until the morning of February 28 to sign the agreement, according to workers who attended the session and spoke to Polygon. Oueslati was not present for either event.

"The leadership, who were answering inquiries, were doing the best that they could. "They sounded exhausted," one of the workers remarked. "It was challenging for everyone who was a part of it. It wasn't only us who weren't getting paid; leads, HR, and everyone else working there isn't getting paid.

According to a screenshot of the discussion, the employees were kept in the dark until March 6, when a senior staff member posted in the work Discord to inform everyone of delays on the lien's registration, reportedly on Oueslati's end. Some hours later, Oueslati responded, claiming that there was a delay and stating that she would not pay the money required to register the lien with the government. She also quipped that the event would make a "hit movie" and suggested that the "actress who played Anna" (probably Anna Delvey in Inventing Anna) star as herself in the film adaptation of the situation.

On March 7, the management team that had been organising the lien agreement sent an email to Oueslati and the rest of the staff to indicate that she would not file the lien. They also released all of the employees who had signed the agreement from the terms of the agreement. According to an email that was reviewed by Polygon, management investigated whether or not the insurance that had been issued through the company was still in effect. Furthermore, everyone is upset about the hoops they need to jump through to get paid, do their taxes, and file for unemployment.

"Since [...] the leadership team [has] no control, power, or authority to provide any of the listed above, we are in total incapacity to do more or provide answers to the employees who have been impacted by your inactions," management wrote in the email. "We are in total incapacity to do more or provide answers to the employees who have been impacted by your inactions." The email provided confirmation that staff members had not received their pay as well as key documentation required to finish their taxes and file for unemployment benefits.

When asked for her opinion, Oueslati responded that she was not the person handling the situation and directed us to speak with her attorney instead. The request for a remark made by Polygon was not met with a response from the attorney, Bernard Colas.

The former employees of Dynasty Loop no longer have anything to show for their time while working at the studio, including no financial compensation and no portfolio items to bring with them when they go on job interviews. In addition to seeking new employment opportunities, some people who spoke to Polygon have battled to pay their rent and provide food for themselves and their children. Each person has missed more than four paychecks, which adds up to thousands of dollars. One of the workers told Polygon that to provide for their children, they had to take out a loan with a member of their family.

One of the workers commented to Polygon that "it's been difficult." "I was forced to make significant reductions in my spending, a significant portion of which was attributable to the rising rate of inflation. Also, we reduced the amount of food we ate. I was fortunate enough to have some funds, which came in handy. Because I couldn't afford the rent, I had to borrow money from my mother.

Workers have told Polygon that Oueslati has stopped communicating directly with those who have been negatively impacted and instead has been referring them to her attorney.

"My faith in humanity has been severely shaken as a result of this circumstance," stated one individual. "In addition to having my financial situation put in jeopardy and having the strain of money put on my friendships, I have become even more pessimistic. There is always the nagging worry that those words will be used to appease me and trick me into justifying or defending someone else.


2023-03-10  Sophia Zackary