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UP #367: Fair Trade Music Seattle

Many of you may already be familiar with my strong support for worker rights. I sponsored the Council’s Paid Sick and Safe Leave ordinance in 2011, which promotes healthy work environments by enforcing standards for paid sick days, ensuring employers provide a minimum amount of paid time off for employees to take care of themselves or their sick family members. As a member of the Minimum Wage and Income Inequality Committee, I helped shape Seattle’s $15 minimum wage Ordinance that went into effect this year. I also proposed the creation of the Office of Labor Standards in 2013, which oversees labor law enforcement for minimum wage, paid sick and safe leave, job assistance, and administrative wage theft.

Fare Trade Music stickerToday, the City Council passed another piece of legislation in support of workers: The Fair Trade Music Seattle Resolution, which I sponsored along with Councilmember O’Brien. It supports improvements to working conditions for musicians.

Formed in August 2012, Fair Trade Music works to bring together union and non-union club musicians to advocate for fair treatment of musicians.

Why was this Resolution called for? Because musicians too often “pay to play” or play for “zero minus expenses” – the venue pays them nothing while they must cover their own costs.

There is often no transparency or accountability. Pay may be based on income from tickets sales at the door or from the bar/restaurant with the venue providing no documentation of income or expenses. Everyone but the musicians gets paid first: the dishwasher, the servers, the bartender, the sound tech, with the musicians who attract the patrons receiving whatever money remains. And a lack of enforceable written agreements leads to last-minute changes in pay, sometimes after performances are over.

There are more issues, such as the practical matter of musicians being able to find a place to park when loading and unloading their equipment. Musicians risk getting parking tickets, having to pay for expensive parking that eats into their pay, or being forced to carry heavy instruments or equipment long distances.

There’s the issue of sound. Many clubs have poor sound systems run by inexperienced sound techs. And, there’s the issue of a lack of communication and common misunderstandings between venue owners and musicians.

To address these problems, Fair Trade Music Seattle worked with music venue owners, the City of Seattle’s Office of Film and Music, and the Seattle Music Commission to help establish Seattle’s Musician Loading Zones program, which facilitates convenient loading and unloading in front of some of our busiest music clubs. They’ve also developed templates for musicians’ performance contracts so venues and musicians can reach quick and reliable agreements. Some venues have even adopted the template to provide musicians who lack them. Fair Trade Music Seattle has conducted classes for musicians on how to negotiate and enforce a fair agreement.

Fair Trade Music Seattle received funding from the Musician’s Local, the national Musicians union, and the Washington State Labor Council to provide free diagnostic and tune-up services for sound systems in Fair Trade Music venues or free piano tuning services.

As of this writing, the following Seattle venues have agreed to abide by Fair Trade Music standards. I hope to see many more venues sign up in the coming months.

88 Keys Dueling Piano Bar (Pioneer Square);

Capitol Cider (Capitol Hill);

Egan’s Ballard Jam House (Ballard);

The Moore (downtown);

Nectar Lounge (Fremont);

The Neptune (University District);

The Paramount (downtown);

Pies & Pints (Roosevelt);

Re-bar (Denny);

Royal Room (Columbia City);

SeaMonster (Wallingford);

The Showbox (downtown),

Showbox SoDo (SoDo);

Skylark Cafe (West Seattle);

Stone Way Cafe (Fremont);

Tula’s Restaurant and Jazz Club (Belltown);

Vito’s (downtown).

Next steps for this initiative include expanding the Musician Loading Zones program and exploring “non-compete” clauses in contracts with some of our local music festivals. Such non-compete clauses prohibit musicians from playing in clubs for a period of time before and after particular festivals.

Fair Trade Music Seattle is also developing a Fair Trade Music sign with a recognizable logo that participating venues can display to let patrons know which venues support fair treatment of musicians. It’s hoped such signage will also encourage venues not yet participating in the program to join.

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