Union set to bargain four of its major contracts

An intense negotiating season’s about to start for the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, with the performers union set to bargain four of its major contracts in coming months.

AFTRA’s launching talks today with ABC News and prepping for the start of sound recordings talks with record labels on June 1.

It’s also scheduled to launch seven weeks of joint negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild in October and November on primetime series work but hasn’t yet set talks for its network code contract, which expires Nov. 15 and is the union’s largest contract with more than $400 million in annual earnings.

AFTRA leaders have already indicated that the time demands on the primetime deal may force them to ask the networks for an extension of the current net code pact, which covers mostly non-primetime work such as soaps, talkshows and gameshows.

The ABC talks are set for today and Friday in Gotham and cover about 75 on-air journalists at the network divisions of ABC including news anchors, correspondents and reporters. The current deal expires May 15.

Key issues at the ABC talks are expected to include use of new technology and additional employer-required duties such as video and editing.

Location of the sound recording negotiations hasn’t been set. The current sound recordings code contract, which expires June 30, covers about 10,000-12,000 royalty artists and session singers who work with more than 1,200 recording companies, including the four majors — EMI, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, and Warner.

Negotiations with the record companies took place over a period of 16 months before a tentative agreement was reached. The deal — which covers annual earnings estimated in the $150 million range — included guaranteed health insurance for newly signed and existing roster artists along with new payments for digital downloads and musicvideos.

AFTRA agreed earlier this year to resume joint bargaining with SAG on the primetime master contract, which expires June 30, 2011.

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