October is Conflict of Interest

When i was doing fund-raising work for east European environmental groups, i often applied for money at the Regional Environmental Center in Budapest.  My lover Krista was on the staff that reviewed the grants which i was submitting.  I asked her boss to kindly withdraw her from the group reviewing applications i submitted.  He flatly declined me saying, “You Americans are always worried about conflict of interest, don’t tell me how to do my job.”


Living part time at Acorn is creating some borderline conflict of interests for me (or perhaps they are full fledged and i just cant see them).  At Twin Oaks i am the manager of Outside Work.  I try to find work for members of the community (outside of our cottage industries) and typically the community gets the money (or most of it) and the members get labor credits.

At Acorn i am running the staffing initiative for the construction of the new seed office.  Part of my job is hiring people to work at Acorn (typically for a meager $10/hour) to supplement the Acorn work force on the building, so hopefully we can move the seed business in by the end of the first week in December.

CoI collage

There is a long tradition at Twin Oaks that anyone can post a Vacation Earnings job of the 3 X 5 board.  Vacation Earnings (VE) differ from Outside Work (OW), because with VE the member actually gets to keep the money (with OW you get mostly or completely labor credits).  Though money earned for VE can only be spent when you are off the farm for more than 24 hours (this is how we define “on vacation”).

So here starts my dilemma.  Am i the seed building chief of staff posting a $10/hour position to Oakers who might want some liquidity beyond the $85/month the community provides?  Or am i the manager of Outside Work who is offering these members $3.33 an hour and 2/3rds of a labor credit for each hour worked?

shark life guard

So it seemed appropriate as Outside Work manager for me to bring this up with the planners (which is a group i am also part of).  Therefore what are our objectives here?  Are we trying to make more money for the community or are we trying to provide some additional pocket money for members? Many will answer that we need to find a balance, some of both – all of the above.  But there are reality constraints.

cow CoI

If we tell members that for this job they can only make $3.33/hour because they are getting labor credits for the rest of the work, they are quite unlikely to take advantage of this opportunity, because they can make better money at a regular VE job.  It is also the case that Twin Oaks wants this project completed in an expedient fashion and Oakers are playing an important part of that effort.  On the other hand, Twin Oaks does not want to feel taken advantage of by Acorn or that they are drawing for personal pay labor away from the Twin Oaks system, which needs a lot of labor to run as well.

The key with “Conflict of Interest” is to recognize that others can make good decisions and that often despite how wise or experienced you might be, the best thing is to let others choose so you can be sure that your bias does not slip past you.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

4 responses to “October is Conflict of Interest”

  1. Ken says :

    Would it be reasonable to post in both fashions and let folks pick the model that suits their desires?

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Ken:

      People always have the OW option. Anyone can work outside the community for a wage of $8/hour or more and give the money to the community and take labor credits. This is what Outside work does. The question is how much freedom do we give members to make money just for their own vacations.

      Paxus at Acorn
      3 Conflict of Interest 2013

  2. North Star says :

    Interesting dilemma. Couple of things strike me about the economics of your post. One, the wages Acorn is offering. $10 an hour is barely what people call a living wage. Makes Wal-Mart’s average wage of $12.60 per hour look downright generous, and they pay benefits too. I don’t have any opinion with what Acorn pays its willing employees, but this is another example of how big corporations can be better and more stable employers than small businesses.

    Second, the whole issue of labor credits. How do labor credits earned by an Oaker working at Acorn get returned back to Twin oaks? Does Acorn assign them a dollar value and reimburse Twinoaks, or do they send an equal number of employees to TO when help is needed there? And for that matter, is there any “secondary market” in labor credits, such as one twinoaks member offering another labor credits in exchange for performing some task? Or even buying some thing with labor credits?

    • paxus says :

      Not that it matters terribly, but Walmart’s real average pay is around $9 (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/23/walmart-wages-to-ceo-annual-salary_n_3140618.html) contrary to the companies website.

      And certainly $10/hour is not very much money, on this we can agree.

      Acorn and Twin Oaks have labor exchange agreements. If i work an hour here as an Oaker it can go to satisfy my labor obligation, i turn in a labor sheet and our accoutnants keep a balance.

      If the work is done for money the people are paid directly, if they work more than $600 worth Acorn generates a 1099 for them and informs the IRS as we are required to.

      If they want to do this as Outside Work, then they record their labor hours and OW bills Acorn for the money.

      There absolutely is a secondary market, they are called PSCs or personal service credits. See http://funologist.org/2011/02/05/shoot-first/

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