Clearwater Becomes First Union Folk Festival

Volume CII, No. 7/8July, 2002

The Clearwater Folk Festival, founded by Pete Seeger to raise funds to clean up the Hudson River, became the first union folk festival ever held on the North American continent this summer. Representatives of the festival and of AFM Local 1000 made it official at a signing ceremony on June 16, in front of thousands of folk fans gathered on the banks of the Hudson River at Croton Park, where the festival takes place each year. A number of the musicians who performed this year, including Seeger and singer/guitarist Richie Havens, are also members of Local 802.

Clearwater and Local 1000 have been in negotiations since last fall. The collective bargaining agreement covers scale wages, pension and working conditions for all professional musicians and storytellers employed by the Sloop Clearwater for its annual festival. It will also be the first time that recordings will be protected at such a festival.

“This is not just some symbolic agreement between us and a union-friendly festival,” said Local 1000 Secretary-Treasurer John O’Connor during the ceremony. “We intend to use this as a door to creating a web of security for musicians who play these kinds of festivals and folk venues. We hope, within the next couple of years, to be able to provide a pension for all musicians who regularly play the folk circuit, through these kinds of agreements.” O’Connor reminded the audience of “all the musicians we’ve had to host benefits for, to help them out when their health failed or they faced some kind of crisis.”

Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, a festival regular and a member of the folk band the Mammals, was on hand as a Local 1000 Executive Board Member. “Clearwater has always been an organization that supports the labor movement. Now it’s official – and we thank them for taking this step forward with our union.”

Local 1000, which is also known as the North American Traveling Musicians Union, was chartered in 1993 as the American Federation of Musicians’ only non-geographical local. It represents traveling musicians on the folk music circuit and has members from all over the United States and Canada. One of the issues that impelled folk musicians to organize for their own local was lack of access to the AFM pension fund. With Local 1000, members can make use of the local’s single engagement contracts to make employer contributions to the pension fund possible.

“The bargaining sessions were not always easy,” said Andy Mele, executive director of Sloop Clearwater. “But we are very proud to be the first festival to sign. We believe other festivals should do the same. We owe it to the many fine artists who have given us such pleasure and inspiration down through the years.”

A committee of musicians who had played past Clearwater events made up the negotiating committee. At last year’s festival, a petition seekingLocal 1000 as their bargaining representative was circulated among performers at the festival. A majority of those performers signed and Clearwater agreed to recognize the union voluntarily. The three-year agreement will be up for renewal after the festival in 2004.