These Artists Are Organizing a Musicians' Union to Demand COVID-19 Aid

The Union of Musicians and Allied Workers sent a letter of demands to Congress signed by members of Fugazi, Downtown Boys, Speedy Ortiz, and many more.
May 4, 2020, 6:59pm
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Downtown Boys and Speedy Ortiz are two of the hundreds of bands to sign UMAW's letter. (Photo credit: left, Farrah Sheiky and right, Shervin Lainez) 

A long list of independent artists has formed the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) to respond to the devastating effects the coronavirus pandemic has had on touring musicians and the industry as a whole. On top of efforts to secure more aid for struggling musicians during the crisis, the union will also "address issues facing musicians such as streaming payments, mechanical royalties, relationships between musicians and venues and record labels and more."

In its first action, the UMAW has sent a detailed letter to Congress with a list of demands for extended benefits in the next congressional relief package. "Musicians and all gig workers are struggling hard right now. 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," co-organizer and Downtown Boys' Joey La Neve DeFrancesco said in a statement.

As of press time, over 278 artists have signed a letter of demands including members of Fugazi, Speedy Ortiz, Downtown Boys, Diet Cig, Torres, Alice Bag, Sonic Youth, Frankie Cosmos, Eve 6, Mannequin Pussy, Charly Bliss, of Montreal, Half Waif, DIIV, Thursday, La Dispute, and dozens more.

"Many of us have been out of work since early March," the letter reads."Even when we receive the promised benefits, it will be too little and too late to survive the catastrophe facing our industry."

To mitigate the economic catastrophe facing music workers, the UMAW letter lists six demands including an extension of CARES act benefits until the end of 2020, an expansion of Medicare, a national rent and mortgage cancellation, and more funding to the National Endowment of the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the U.S. Postal Service.

"The above include the bare minimum needed to ensure that musicians, self-employed people, and all workers are able to survive the COVID crisis and its devastating economic aftermath with dignity," the letter continues. "Musicians and artists perform labor that provides entertainment, comfort, and meaning, for countless Americans, particularly during quarantine. If we are to continue producing through this crisis and afterward, we must have rights, respect, and immediate economic relief."

You can read the letter in full at UMAW's just-launched website, and if you're a musician, DJ, producer, road crew, or any in any gig related to music, you can sign the letter and join the group. To celebrate its launch, the UMAW will host a livestream concert featuring sets from Algiers, DIIV, and more. It will broadcast on the union's Instagram tonight, May 4 from 6 p.m. ET to 7:40 p.m. ET.