Newly formed Union of Musicians calls for extension of CARES Act benefits

Across the country, hundreds in a union of musicians have signed on to a letter with demands for the next COVID-19 relief package. Included in these demands are an extension of CARES Act unemployment benefits through the remainder of 2020, in addition to rent cancellation, the extension of benefits to all people regardless of immigration status, Medicare for all, and more.

Artist including Sammus, Downtown Boys, Algiers, Damon & Naomi, Eve 6, Potty Mouth, DJ Haram, Riobamba, Guy Picciotto, Speedy Ortiz, Alice Bag, and many others have signed the letter, which can be viewed here.

While the first CARES Act extended unemployment to some musicians and other self-employed workers, the payment of those benefits has been an inconsistent state-by-state process, and many workers stand to lose their benefits before this crisis is over. Music workers rightfully are demanding immediate access to the full benefits of the first CARES package, and making it clear they must be available until at least the end of 2020. Concerts and festivals will likely be one of the last things to reopen, and so music workers are facing a long period of zero or limited income. The letter’s demands are in line with other entertainment organization policies, including IATSE, and the AFL-CIO Department of Professional Employees

“Musicians and all gig workers are struggling hard right now.” said statement co-organizer Joey La Neve DeFrancesco. “Rent is due, bills are due, debt is piling up, and many of us still haven’t gotten any financial support. We need more immediately if we’re going to survive.” 

Buffalo’s Donny Frauenhofer (Intrepid Travelers, DF3, THE TRUTH) said of the petition and newly formed Union of Musician and Allied Workers:

I think it’s a great idea and there’s no better time than now. Times of extreme hardship can actually yield some of the best community accomplishments because people are forced to band together to survive, and musicians are going to have to do that.

Something I’ve always thought needed to be addressed was how often you get these individuals working in the music industry that project these politically progressive and altruistic attitudes, and then turn around and behind the curtain manipulate artists into playing for less than they’re worth, or even for free. I don’t know how a musician or a music fan could oppose this – Musicians rights are worker rights, and its long overdue that we hold people in our industry accountable to that.

The organization behind the letter is the new labor group Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW). The group was formed by a committee of dozens of musicians in response to the dire circumstances facing musicians amid the COVID crisis. Beyond COVID related demands, the organization seeks to address issues facing musicians such as streaming payments, mechanical royalties, relationships between musicians and venues and record labels, and more. The group’s mission statement says it also seeks to “use our strength as music workers to join in the broader struggles of our fellow workers across the globe.” UMAW asks musicians to join the group and to share their labor concerns in the music industry. 

“By aligning our demands with the stability, health, and upliftment of all workers, working musicians strengthen broader workers’ struggles,” explained co-organizer Josephine Shetty, who performs as Kohinoorgasm. 

While other musician labor groups exist, UMAW says it seeks to broadly include all music workers, including musicians, DJs, producers, crew members, etc., and to fight for justice in the music industry, as well as to join workers across the country in fighting for a better society.

UMAW’s letter also demands that benefits be made available to all workers, including undocumented people. Portugal, for instance, has initiated such a system of benefits that treats certain migrants as full residents. The statement also urges a rent cancelation, to save both workers and music venues and arts organizations, and the funding of the Post Office, which is essential for artists shipping merchandise. 

The letter is a follow up to a statement from music workers in March, which now has over 1000 signatures. 

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