AFTRA leaders hail new recordings pact

Guild hails tentative deal

AFTRA leaders have blessed the union’s tentative deal for a new sound recordings contract, citing the pact’s expanded health coverage.

AFTRA made the announcement Tuesday after unanimous approval by its national board. Deal still must be approved by the membership via half a dozen ratification meetings and by the AFTRA Health & Retirement Trustees; that’s expected to take place later this month.

AFTRA prexy John Connolly heralded the pact as a “quantum leap forward” due to its provision for guaranteed access to the AFTRA health plan as long as artists have individual exclusive recording contracts. Under the current pact, only artists whose annual royalty earnings topped $10,000 were eligible for coverage.

“AFTRA commends the recording industry for recognizing the importance of providing basic health care to the artists whose music fuels this business, and for working with AFTRA’s negotiating committee to develop a breakthrough solution on this issue,” Connolly said. “I can only hope that the rest of American industry takes note of this revolutionary breakthrough and follows suit to help solve the health care crisis in our country.”

RIAA chief Mitch Bainwol noted both sides had started the talks with the goal of providing health care coverage to roster artists. “We are thrilled that we were able to reach an agreement to provide these benefits, especially given the current economics of our business,” he added.

Negotiators needed more than a year to hammer out a deal. The accord came seven weeks after both sides agreed to call in a federal mediator. The union’s current sound recordings contract, which covers about $150 million in member earnings annually, has been extended more than a year since its original expiration of June 30, 2002.

The new deal would be expire on June 30, 2006, and be retroactive to June 30, 2002. Its other features include:

  • Annual increases averaging 3% in base session rates.

  • Additional contingent scale payments for session performers on recordings that top 157,000 units in sales.

  • Increased pension participation for artists who earn annual royalties of more than $120,000.

  • New information-sharing procedures to track conversions of recordings to film, TV and other media.

  • Mechanisms to allow union and industry reps to better address issues of mutual concern.

Due to soaring costs, AFTRA’s health plan has tightened eligibility and cut benefits since July 1. As of last November, the value of its retirement plan assets were $280 million short of the value of vested benefits, prompting AFTRA to ask the IRS for a 10-year extension on the 15-year requirement to amortize investment losses (Daily Variety, Aug. 4).

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