American Federation of Musicians Supports AFTRA In Negotiations With Record Labels
American Federation of Musicians Supports AFTRA In Negotiations With Record Labels

AFTRA singers and other members have ratified the union's sound recording agreement with the major labels, the union announced Monday. The move, by a vote of almost 99 percent in favor, was expected.

The agreement, which was reached Dec. 15, comes against a background of mixed success in other aspects of the music business. The American Federation of Musicians recently ratified a renewal of its own agreement with the labels, but only after working for several years under an expired contract. Meanwhile, the AFM has been unable to obtain an agreement with Lionsgate covering musicians' work for movies and television.

Likewise unsuccessful has been AFTRA's campaign to obtain a contract with the labels covering dancers in music videos.

The AFTRA agreement ratified today, called the Sound Recordings Code, runs from Jan. 1, 2012 through Dec. 31, 2014, and was negotiated with representatives from UMG, Sony, Warner, EMI and Disney labels. It increases base rates by 2 percent per year and employer health and retirement contributions on royalty income by 1 percent over the life of the contract.

In addition, the agreement increases the maximum on special employer health insurance contributions from $5,000 to $6,500 per year. Those payments allow royalty artists on a label's current roster to receive health benefits even if their earnings fall below qualifying thresholds.

According to the union, the agreement also improves and expands performers' base of participation in revenue from sale of digital downloads and establishes a structure of revenue-based payments for new areas of low budget licenses and licenses for non-traditional usages, such as re-use of recordings in novelty consumer products.

The contract covers session singers, royalty artists, announcers, actors, comedians, narrators and sound effects artists who work on recordings in all new and traditional media and all music formats, as well as audiobooks, comedy albums and cast albums. The Code generates more than $140 million annually in AFTRA-covered earnings and benefits.

The new agreement represents a renewal of the previous pact, which ended Dec. 31, 2011.

The AFM's corresponding agreement - the Sound Recording Labor Agreement - was ratified by members on Jan. 13. The new three-year contract includes annual increases in scale wages (2 percent in the first year, then 1.5 percent and 1 percent), plus health and welfare increases and new revenue streams for the union itself and the pension fund.

In what AFM president Ray Hair described as the first in his memory, the union consulted with AFTRA as it developed its contract proposals.

The two unions have complementary jurisdiction in the recording field: AFTRA represents singers, whereas AFM represents musicians and certain others.

In the film and television music field, AFM has been seeking an agreement with Lionsgate. They've twice picketed Mad Men shoots in downtown Los Angeles, to little effect.

Hair blasted Lionsgate's refusal to negotiate, telling The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview that the company "needs to treat musicians fairly" by adhering to minimums and paying pension, health and residuals. "They do it for everybody else in the room," he added.

Marc Sazer, president of the Los Angeles based Recording Musicians Association, echoed those remarks, telling THR that the disparity was frustrating. "People are dependant on the healthcare that comes with union contracts," he added.

Affiliated with the AFM, the RMA focuses on the interests of recording musicians who work in motion pictures and television, among other areas.

Meanwhile AFTRA's own efforts to reach agreement with the labels on a contract covering dancers in music videos has also been an uphill slog. Several negotiating sessions have been held. Further talks are planned for February, but no dates have been set. The union cites healthcare, working conditions and wages as key issues.

The union held a colorful performance and rally at Sony Music's Beverly Hills offices last month, where dancer Kevin Stea - a veteran of film, television, and of work with Madonna, Michael Jackson and other acts - told THR that a union contract was a matter of "basic rights and respect."

Also Monday, AFTRA sent out ratification ballots for its Network Television Code, which covers daytime programming and a range of other dayparts and program types other than scripted primetime programming. Ballots are due back by Feb. 22.

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