Negotiators for AFTRA and major record labels will launch talks Thursday in Gotham on a sound recordings contract, seven weeks prior to the June 30 expiration of the current pact.

The contract generates annual earnings of about $150 million for 15,000 AFTRA members and covers performances by a wide variety of performers including singers, music groups, narrators, choruses, actors and Broadway casts. AFTRA has more than 1,200 signatories to the pact, including the five major labels.

Greg Hessinger, national exec director of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, told Daily Variety that the centerpiece of AFTRA’s proposal is to improve health and retirement provisions with a goal of ensuring continuity of insurance coverage. “This is a win-win opportunity for the record labels to work with the union at a time when a lot of artists are falling out of coverage,” he added.

AFTRA’s lead negotiators will be associate national director Kim Roberts and Anne Chaitovitz, the union’s national director of sound recordings. In addition to bargaining sessions in Gotham, negotiations also might take place in Los Angeles and Nashville.

Hessinger added that AFTRA negotiators will focus on two key areas:

  • Including limits on the terms of royalty contracts, similar to the union’s efforts in California to join with prominent artists to seek repeal the so-called seven-year statute, which exempts record companies from limiting personal service contracts to seven years.

  • Ensuring that AFTRA members continue to participate in profits from new distribution platforms such as the Internet.

Negotiations had been set to begin today but were pushed back to Thursday in order for AFTRA reps to testify in Washington, D.C., at a Senate Judiciary committee hearing on February’s proposal by the U.S. Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel setting up payment terms for use of music on radio-style Internet programs. AFTRA member Dan Navarro is slated to testify.

CARP proposed that Internet-only Webcasters pay a copyright royalty rate of 0.14¢ per song while radio stations simulcasting over the Internet would pay half that amount.