Tentative pact ups employer contributions to health funds

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has reached a tentative three-year deal with the record labels, two weeks before the expiration of the current contract.

AFTRA made the announcement Thursday and said it had achieved an increase in base rates of 2% annually, as well as its key objective of increasing employer contributions to the AFTRA Health and Retirement Funds.

Negotiations between the union and the record labels resumed this week — more than two months after those talks broke down.

The Sound Recordings Code generates more than $140 million in annual earnings for AFTRA members. It covers singers, royalty and non-royalty artists, as well as 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 current contract was negotiated in 2007 with a June 2010 expiration, but the pact was subsequently extended by 18 months to the Dec. 31 expiration.

AFTRA national executive director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, who served as chief negotiator, said in a statement: “The working members of this negotiating committee confronted unique challenges in this negotiation due to the structural changes, threats from content theft and sharp economic declines the recording business has experienced during the past decade, which are beyond anything experienced by our members working in other entertainment and media sectors.

“The AFTRA members on the negotiating committee nonetheless succeeded in achieving critically needed increases in minimums and H&R contributions and further bargained payment structures for digital revenue and new forms of licensing that will enable performers to better participate in evolving business structures as the recorded music industry attempts to adapt to change,” she added.

The tentative agreement will be submitted to the national board for approval and then for ratification by members. AFTRA said details on the ratification process will be announced shortly after the new year.

AFTRA said highlights of the contract, which will run retroactively from Jan. 1, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2014, include an increase in base rates of 2% each year of the contract; an increase in the employer health and retirement contribution rate on royalty income by 1% over the life of the agreement; the retention of required special employer contributions that guarantee health insurance benefits for royalty artists on the current “roster” of a label by increasing the maximum on employer contributions from $5,000 to $6,500 per year; improved and expanded performers’ base of participation in revenue from sale of digital downloads; the establishment of a new structure of revenue-based payments for new areas of low-budget licenses and licenses for nontraditional usages, such as reuse of recordings in novelty consumer products.

AFTRA said an all-day session in New York ran late Wednesday, with a tentative agreement reached Thursday morning. Negotiations between AFTRA and representatives from UMG, Sony, Warner, EMI and Disney labels began Aug. 15, with an additional round of bargaining held in Los Angeles the week of Sept. 12-16 and in New York on Oct. 5.

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