Fund from proceeds to be created
HOLLYWOOD — A court settlement has been reached in a long-running suit alleging that AFTRA’s health and retirement funds had short-changed a group of 1960s recording artists.The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists — which operates as a separate entity from the AFTRA Funds — announced the settlement Wednesday after a hearing in Atlanta held by U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper. The action, originally filed by Samuel Moore of Sam & Dave, alleged the Funds failed to collect proper pension and health contributions from record companies over a 35-year period. Moore was joined in the suit by more than a dozen artists, including Curtis Mayfield and members of the Coasters, the Drifters, the Chambers Brothers and the Shirelles. AFTRA took the extraordinary step of filing a court brief in May opposing portions of a proposed $8 million settlement. (AFTRA said at the time the proposed settlement was inadequate in compensating artists other than the plaintiffs.) A month later, Cooper approved AFTRA’s motion to participate in the case, leading to six months of settlement talks. AFTRA’s happy “Today’s resolution clearly addresses the concerns of class members and establishes a strong foundation for future activities on behalf of recording artists who are eligible for health and pension benefits under the AFTRA contract,” said AFTRA national executive director Greg Hessinger. The exec said the key part of the settlement involved deletion of language from the prior settlement that would have deprived class members of their rights to challenge benefit determinations in court. “We originally chose to intervene so that no affected artist would be deprived of the fundamental right of due process,” Hessinger added. “Not only have the previous offensive provisions been deleted, but new ‘artist-friendly’ arbitration procedures have also been established to facilitate the processing of claims filed by recording artists.” Fund to be created Deal calls for creation of a fund from settlement proceeds to cover the costs of successful claims as well as improvements made to the claims process, including hiring an independent consultant to review procedures in evaluating claims. In addition AFTRA will hire a full-time ombudsman to assist plan participants in obtaining information and filing claims. Hessinger also said AFTRA and the Funds will develop an outreach campaign to artists who wish to submit claims. Moore’s suits was originally filed against AFTRA, its funds and several record companies. The portion of the suit against AFTRA was dismissed in 1993 while the allegations against the record companies remain in litigation. In a separate development, negotiators for record labels and AFTRA resumed talks Wednesday in Gotham for the first time since mid-July. The bargaining was put on hold so that research could be conducted on health and retirement issues.