Secretly Group Union Earns Contract In Major Milestone for Indie Music Organizing

The Secretly Group Union has affirmed and ratified a contract with its employers, marking a major milestone for one of the first independent record-label staffs to organize. 

The SGU announced the news on Twitter Tuesday night, Oct. 11, writing, “We are ecstatic to announce that contract negotiations have concluded and our membership has voted to ratify the contract! This was a long and very difficult fight, but we could not be prouder to be the first independent label group union. We hope this is a beacon to other labels and other people struggling to work in music.  Our vote was a contentious decision, and we already know what we’re going back for when it’s time to go back to the table.”

Secretly is one of the most prominent indie music companies, comprising five labels — Secretly Canadian, Dead Oceans, JagJaguwar, Ghostly International, and the archival label Numero Group — plus distribution and publishing arms. The roster across those labels includes heavyweights such as Bon Iver, Phoebe Bridgers, Yoko Ono, Sharon Van Etten, Mitski, the War on Drugs, and Khruangbin. 

Staffers at Secretly Group first announced their plan to unionize in March 2021 in the hopes of securing a contract that would allow them to tackle issues like low wages, inadequate health care benefits, and a desire for more transparency and representation in the workforce. To help their organization efforts, Secretly employees worked with the Office and Professional Employees International Union, which represents administrative staff at several major-label groups. 

At the time, one member of the organizing committee, who spoke with Rolling Stone anonymously, explained, “We’ve all had friends say, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky. You get to work with music, you get a free ticket to a show or free drinks,’ but drinks and shows and music don’t pay our rent, and don’t provide us with the support that we need. We obviously have a real passion for what we do. We love our roster, and we’re really proud of all the music we put out, and we’re proud of being able to work on it. But that is not a substitute for the kinds of benefits and compensation that we need to keep being able to do this.”

For its part, Secretly Group agreed to voluntarily recognize the union not long after the initial announcement, though it still took over a year for negotiations to conclude and for the contract to be ratified. The SGU also acknowledged that, despite the contract, there was still work to be done, writing, “The fight never ends with a first contract – we’re excited to engage with the energy that this contract brings at Secretly and in our industry at large to continue advocating for our workers and everyone in the music industry.”

On Twitter, Dead Oceans shared a message saying, “This agreement marks a new chapter in Secretly’s ongoing commitment to our staff, to our workplace and to the core values we bring to artist and label partners every day. A note of heartfelt thanks is in order: to everyone involved in reaching today’s agreement, to the depth of trust and respect that colleagues placed in one another and in this process and to the effort and work put in to reach this milestone.”