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After negotiating for more than a year without reaching a deal, AFTRA and the recording industry have agreed to call in a federal mediator.

AFTRA made the announcement Thursday and said the initial meetings with the mediator would start by the end of the month. It gave no timetable for when it hopes to start a new round of negotiations, however.

The logjam over a new contract has meant AFTRA’s current sound recordings contract, which covers about $150 million in member earnings annually, has been extended by more than a year since its original expiration of June 30, 2002.

AFTRA said it has taken a conciliatory approach in the negotiations and attempted to characterize the use of a mediator as a means of breaking the deadlock. The union did not say what steps it may take if the talks do not move forward, such as taking a strike authorization vote of members.

“We have worked patiently for months through dialogue rather than confrontation,” AFTRA said. “At this time, both sides have agreed to retain the services of a federal mediator to facilitate discussion of significant issues moving forward. This is a common occurrence, and we believe this direction is in the best interests of achieving the best contract for our members.”

Health plan key

AFTRA has previously said that key issues in the negotiations include improvements in health insurance. AFTRA’s health plan has been forced to tighten eligibility and cut benefits since July 1.

Soaring costs have meant that all showbiz health plans, which are operated jointly with the industry, have had to take such steps.