Shortly after publishing the concept paper on Collective Insourcing that Guy mentioned in his initial post, he and I were sitting at a café on Atlantic Avenue slugging coffee and wrestling with the deeper details of how this thing was actually going to work. (We still are, by the way: slugging coffee and wrestling with details, but progress has been made — at least on the details, if not the coffee habit.) We were trying to figure out the key that would really shift the model from a nonprofit service organization requiring consistent contributed income to sustain itself into something else — something that could (eventually) have a chance at self-sufficiency, something that could be fully member-driven and serve to keep resources growing within the arts field, rather than siphoning out of it.

After many coffee refills and many long pauses, we hit on something: labor sharing.

What if we could create a structure that would not only share hard resources and provide services, but also share the employees providing such services?

To find out, we are researching models for co-employment (also called joint employment), which is defined by the U.S. Department of Labor this way:

Joint employment is employment by one employer that is not completely disassociated from employment by other employers; it is present when an employee is economically dependent on more than one employer…

Now, that may sound a bit like circular language, but the important take-away here is that the relationship between the two (or more) employers revolves around the employees. Co-employment is not a merger of the joint companies, rather a partnership allowing the work of certain employees to be shared. Co-employment can also relieve one of the joint employers of certain tasks relating to workforce administration.

Typical examples of co-employment structures are temp agencies and professional employer organizations (PEOs), which provide umbrella workforce administration for a number of organizational clients. Neither a temp agency nor a PEO, ArtsPool borrows elements from both, and our current plan is to use a form of co-employment as the underlying HR structure for ArtsPool, in order to facilitate the shared “Labor Network” that is a cornerstone of the ArtsPool concept.

Co-employment offers some attractive advantages, but it is also tricky to sort out properly, and we hear frequently that the idea is a bit scary for potential members. When we hit on the idea of labor sharing in that café on Atlantic Avenue, it scared us too. It brings up a lot of questions, and a lot of sticky wickets, but it also entices us with an exciting potential to truly shift the game—to operate and advocate collectively as a field.

So, we’re continuing to include co-employment in our development. Specifically, here’s we are trying to accomplish:

  • Ease of short term, project-based hiring while providing better long-term stability for previously itinerant workers.
  • Ability to increase efficiency across the field by allowing a full-time worker’s “down time” to be applied towards work needs elsewhere in the field (within the umbrella of the co-employment pool).
  • Ability to leverage reduced costs with vendors and access to professional development through collective bargaining.

And here are some of the sticky wickets we’re working through, as we shape our co-employment framework:

  • It is important that we structure the agreements between ArtsPool and its members to allow for control over workers to be fluid, depending on whether an employee is working for the member directly or doing work for the broader pool, as directed by ArtsPool management.
  • We are aiming to ensure (and also communicate) that despite this fluidity, members ultimately control the work of any of their direct employees and can pull an employee from the pool at any time, with agreed upon notice.

Do you have other questions or concerns about joining a co-employment structure? Share your thoughts to further round out our considerations during development by leaving us a comment below, or drop us a line via the contact form to sign up for updates.