Sound recording negotiations continue

Leaders of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have given a strike authorization to negotiators in the union’s sound recording contract. AFTRA’s national board voted unanimously for the authorization in its meeting Saturday.

Negotiations with the labels had launched in mid-August The current pact expires Dec. 31 and covers singers, royalty and non-royalty artists, announcers, actors, comedians, narrators and sound effects artists who work on recordings in all new and traditional media and all music formats, in addition to audiobooks, comedy albums and cast albums. The contract generates more than $140 million annually in earnings and benefits for artists and session singers.

The current contract was negotiated in 2007 with a June 2010 expiration but the pact was extended by 18 months.

Negotiations between AFTRA and reps from Sony, UMG, Warner, EMI, Disney and most of their subsidiary labels for a successor agreement an additional round of bargaining held in Los Angeles the week of Sept. 12-16. An additional bargaining date has been set for Wednesday.

The AFTRA board members also unanimously approved the appointment of its Network Television Code Negotiating Committee. AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon will chair the 25-member committee and national exec director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth will serve as chief negotiator.

The net code generates more than $300 million a year in member earnings and covers programming outside primetime drama and sitcoms including dramas in first-run syndication, morning news shows, talk shows, serials (soap operas), variety, reality, contest and sports.

Current programs covered include: “Good Morning America,” “The View,” “The Price is Right,” “General Hospital,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Voice,” “Survivor,” “20/20,” “Deal or No Deal” and “Late Show with David Letterman,”

“In order to prevail, professional union talent must stand together and organize themselves through their Union so that together they can secure strong contracts,” Hedgpeth said.

AFTRA said the meeting included discussion of the ongoing effort to merger with the Screen Actors Guild. The first two formal meetings between reps of the AFTRA and SAG have been working out details of the merger plan as part of the official process of delivering a merger plan by next January.

A member vote could take place by spring by the 120,000 members of SAG and the 70,000 members of AFTRA — with 45,000 members belonging to both. The next official meeting between union leaders to prep the merger proposal will take place Oct. 14-18 in Los Angeles.

National Treasurer Matthew Kimbrough told the board Saturday that AFTRA has increased its budget for One Union-related expenses by another $115,000 to more than $1.5 million. Reardon — who has been pushing for a merger since she became president four years ago — issued a statement asserting that the orgs need to combined at a time when labor is under attack.

“The Labor Movement is facing tremendous challenges all across the country,” she said. “Union density is declining in both the public and private sectors, and in mature and emerging industries alike. Performers and professionals who work in the entertainment and media industries are not immune from these challenges. This is why our work with Screen Actors Guild to build one new union for all of our members is so timely and so important.

Opponents have asserted that SAG will lose its unique character as an actors union if it merges with AFTRA and that the combo won’t solve ongoing problems — such as separate health and retirement plans. Reardon said those concerns are misplaced due to fast-changing conditions.

“We are building a bigger, stronger and more expansive union, both in terms of numbers and jurisdiction,” she said. “The universe of work we cover has changed fundamentally, so this project is not just about our health and retirement benefits, and not just about two sets of dues. It’s about the industry and the future of the industry and how we stay unionized in the future.”

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