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UMAW is Leading the Charge for a ‘New Universe of Music’

The Union of Musicians and Allied Workers demands long overdue benefits for music industry workers through collective organizing.

May 16, 2020
Written by
Cynthia Schemmer
Design by
She Shreds Media

On Thursday, May 14th the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) organized a day of action to demand an extension of unemployment benefits for artists. It included a hotline with helpful prompts that directed callers to the voicemails of lawmakers, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, who are currently finalizing the next COVID-19 relief package. UMAW also hosted a livestream informational meeting that offered more information about the union and their future plans. 

UMAW is a collective response to COVID-19 that not only demands unemployment benefits, but plans to address issues that musicians have consistently faced. “What [musicians] are doing is work that is not traditionally seen under the labor umbrella,” said Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, known as Sammus, at last night’s UMAW meeting. “So many of us are living in precarious positions… We have this asinine system in which healthcare is linked to your employer.” Musicians, who are often contracted workers, lack the many resources, benefits, and respect that other types of labor are offered. And yet, our work spans a large landscape of industries and involuntarily garners a larger profit for them above ourselves. 

 We believe that the only way to transform music is to collectively take resources and power from the few wealthy companies that dictate our industry. We invite all music workers, including musicians, DJs, producers, road crew, and others, to join us. We also aim to use our strength as music workers to join in the broader struggles of our fellow workers across the globe. We stand for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, abolishing ICE, destroying borders, the freeing of incarcerated people, and more. Music workers are workers, and it is time we get organized and join the fight.

Union of Musicians and Allied Workers 

Keep making calls and demands at 813-213-3989
 – The UMAW hotline will remain open until the next relief package is finalized, and the calming voice of Sadie Dupuis (Speedy OrtizSAD13) will guide you through the process. Sample scripts and more information can be found on the UMAW website.

The union is currently composing a transparent system of operations with an emphasis on collective action, as well as a plan for moving forward. UMAW’s current list of demands include the following:

1. We demand an extension of CARES Act unemployment benefits, including Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, through at least the remainder of 2020. Live music will be one of the last businesses to reopen, and music workers will need support until that happens.

2. We demand the extension of benefits to all Americans in need, regardless of their immigration status.

3. We demand a national rent and mortgage cancellation for all for the duration of the crisis, in order to ensure housing security, and to save our music venues, small businesses, and non-profits.

4. We demand emergency supplemental funding to the NEA, NEH, and CPB, and that the new relief package authorize emergency regranting to individuals.

5. We demand that Medicare be expanded immediately to cover everyone in the country.

6. We demand that the US Post Office be given all necessary funding, with no rate increases and no privatization. The Post Office is a necessity for musicians and other artists who ship recorded music and other merchandise.


UMAW is also in the process of addressing a broader spectrum of workers through subcommittees including venue accountability, label transparency, contract negotiation, streaming service payouts, funds for undocumented workers, and the prioritization of people of color. “In this new universe of music, we must be thinking about the most marginalized, and those that need to be served with the most urgency,” said Lumumba-Kasongo, noting that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black and immigrant communities. 

While it’s clear that the music industry will be the last to resume operations on the other side of COVID-19, there is also a new dawn upon us. The momentous organizing by UMAW and others (NIVA’s Save Our Stages and Ampled, to name a few) has been a long time coming. “Anything is possible if we fight for it,” said musician and UMAW organizer Evan Greer. “What is possible is defined by how hard we organize, and how much pressure we put on representatives.” 

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