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January 28, 2006

Equal Pay, Balanced Job Complexes and Other Oddities

A lot of people have commented that they appreciate glimpses into how the PeoplesNetWorks collective operates, and I think the most interesting aspect of our organizational structure is also the one our readers probably know the least about: the participatory economics model we use for staffing.

As a collective, every member has equal decision-making authority. There is absolutely no hierarchy.

In order to truly preclude hierarchy, everyone has to get equal pay for comparable work, regardless of specialty, seniority, education, race, sex, age or other factors taken for granted in modern workplaces. We remunerate ourselves -- as well as our freelance writers and editors -- according to effort and sacrifice, rather than these other factors designed to maintain hierarchies in our society. And while our pay might not compare to the corporate mainstream (even remotely), we're aiming for internal balance first. We'll challenge the big guys soon enough.

And in order for that pay arrangement to make sense, we can't just have a janitor, an office manager, a webmaster, a secretary, a reporter an editor and a publisher, or some such traditional structure. Instead, we need to distribute tasks fairly, in proportion to the total amount someone works. (At the moment, we have two collective members working 2/3-time until they leave their other jobs and become full-time.)

That does not mean that we all do an equal amount of webmastering and reporting, of course; there is a division of labor here. But we try our best to balance out different types of work, while still allowing people to specialize.

We have three basic categories of work at the moment: managerial, administrative and content-building. The managerial work is fairly easy to balance -- we meet together (mostly by telephone, since we're spread across the East Coast) as a collective, and we work on various committees carrying out specific projects and tasks.

Then there is the administrative work, which is perhaps the most varied. This includes managing the e-store, bookkeeping and accounting, answering the tons of e-mail we receive, tech support and site repairs, promoting the website, and so much more. We take these tasks, or chunks of them, and mix and match until everybody is doing a proportional share of something they can at least tolerate, if not enjoy.

Then there is the content-building work. Obviously, we have writers and editors. Most of us do some mix, but there are obvious specialties and tendencies. We have three levels of editorial work here: primary editing, secondary editing and copy editing. Also in this category is website development, as it is a surprisingly creative and empowering role at The NewStandard.

Anyway, as proud as we are of this structure, we can't claim to have invented it, or even to have been the first to use it. But that's good news for you, if the idea interests you. It is called "participatory economics," or "parecon" for short, and there is a whole website and many books devoted to the broader concept on which our workplace design is based. (I also just found the Wikipedia entry and a MySpace site, if those are more your style.)

But more importantly, we aren't the first to put this into practice. South End Press and Z Communications have been doing it for decades, and our friends at Mondragon bookstore/coffee house and G7 Welcoming Committee Records -- both in Winnipeg, Canada -- have formed great examples as well.


merryd: Equal Pay, Balanced Job Complexes and Other Oddities

This is an excellent model of work-sharing and pay equity. Thank you all for setting an example so that others can see it work. As an employee of one of the most structured and immoveable heirarchies in our culture (the catholic church) I can only dream of finding a place to work that employs this model.

WhatNext: Equal Pay, Balanced Job Complexes and Other Oddities

The idea is intriguing; certainly there are other considerations in organizational hierarchies than greed, but there are doubtless many organizations the size of yours which have succeeded using participatory management and many more which would be well advised to consider doing so. Best of luck.

brooksenglish: Equal Pay, Balanced Job Complexes and Other Oddities

Wow! Great links to Mondragon Bookstore and Coffeshop. I'd like to say that I feel more skilled jobs should pay more in a worker-owned cooperative, of course if all agree to that. There are natural heirachies, and getting rid of hierachy shouldn't be the goal, but to recognize natural hierachies, of which most most are not, which creates oppression. I think Ward Churchill has some great things to say about this. Greg

vingtetun: Equal Pay, Balanced Job Complexes and Other Oddities

Having heard of The New Standard through Z Magazine and seeing references from Chomsky, I would have thought a large portion of readers would be familiar with parecon. It seems to me that a lot of people are interested in alternatives to corporate heirarchy just as much as they are interested in alternatives to corporate media. Either way I look forward to the results on both fronts.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.