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Home » Organizing » Grassroots Efforts Demonstrate Power of Musician Organizing

Grassroots Efforts Demonstrate Power of Musician Organizing


Fair Trade Music (FTM) Seattle, with support from AFM Local 76-493, has won a significant victory: musician loading zones at several major clubs. This follows a similar win by AFM Local 257 (Nashville, TN), which gained similar zones in 2011.

FTM is a grassroots campaign dedicated to raising the standard of living for all Seattle-area working musicians. With strong backing from Local 76-493, it includes both union and nonunion musicians.

At its first public meeting in August 2012, musicians had an opportunity to discuss with each other what kind of problems they were facing. A top issue was the difficulty club musicians have with unloading and loading their gear at area venues. Many music clubs are in heavily congested areas, and musicians must either tote heavy instruments and equipment long distances or risk parking violations.

FTM and local leaders met with the Seattle Office of Film and Music, as well as the chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee. Musicians relayed horror stories of $40 parking tickets for a gig that paid $30, or having to move equipment five or 10 blocks to get to work.

The musicians asked the city to establish musician loading zones within 100 feet of the venue entrance, with a visible sign identifying the zone. They also sought a 30-minute parking limit between 3:30 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.

To establish standards for eligible clubs, they proposed that the zones be limited to venues that have qualified for admission tax exemption. This requires that the venues hold fewer than 1,000 people; host live music at least three days each week, with a minimum number of individual performances per week; stay out of legal trouble; have a current Seattle business license; and obtain a certificate of exemption from the city. By city definition, “live music” also includes that provided by a DJ. Nineteen venues met these standards and were targeted as potential sites.

In early March, the first four loading zones were established, covering five of the 19 venues. Local 76-493 member Nate Omdal, a bassist who plays jazz at area clubs and a leader of Fair Trade Music, noted: “It’s amazing what musicians can accomplish when we work together. We got great help from the musicians union, and wonderful cooperation from the city and the club owners. But, the real lesson for me was that, as musicians, we actually do have the power to make change—we just need to get together and act.”

Local 257 President Dave Pomeroy points out that “this essentially gives musicians the same rights as beer trucks that service the clubs.
It’s a good start, and our next goal is com-
ing up with an affordable parking scenario for musicians.”

Pomeroy worked closely with the mayor and city council in Nashville to achieve gains. He described the Nashville victory as, “one small step towards respect for club musicians that has given Local 257 street credibility.”

The Seattle move has attracted huge attention, not only within the music community, but also within the labor movement. Labor sees it as an example of rank-and-file organizing to both empower musicians as workers and make gains for working musicians. Musicians are excited at their ability to make change, but also see it as a logical development.

The win also reflects the strong working relationship between labor and the city. Local 76-493 President Motter Forman noted, “This is a step forward in improving working conditions for club musicians. We would like to thank the Seattle Music Commission, the Mayor’s Office of Film and Music, and the Seattle Department of Transportation for helping to make our idea a reality.”

Fair Trade Music hopes to use the victory to spur further organizing. They are exploring campaigns for similar policies, not only for other Seattle venues, but also in other cities in the Puget Sound region. And they’re planning training for musicians from the local’s organizing department, as well as strategic planning to formulate a program to expand their gains. As part of the effort, Local 76-493 will participate in the training and strategic planning together with the FTM activists, so that the local and the Fair Trade musicians can work together to organize for change.

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