Musicians Win Health Benefits

Times Staff Writer

The nation’s five major record labels agreed for the first time to provide health benefits for all artists on their rosters as part of a new union pact announced Tuesday.

The deal is a breakthrough for working musicians, many of whom didn’t earn enough in album royalties to qualify for union health benefits under the old contract.

The new agreement could be ratified by members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the union’s health fund trustees as early as mid-November.

The contract also boosts base wages for session performers by an average of 3% a year over the contract’s four-year term, and institutes new payments for session artists who appear on recordings that sell more than 157,000 units. The contract covers about 15,000 musicians.


Representatives for AFTRA, which represents singers and other performers who sign with major labels, have been trying to reach an accord with the companies since May 2002. The talks opened months after a parade of rock stars, including Don Henley, Tom Petty and Courtney Love, publicly demanded better contracts and more access to health and pension benefits for performers.

Under the industry’s previous pact, only artists who earned royalties of $10,000 a year qualified for benefits. But in the new agreement, companies would contribute payments to the AFTRA health plan to cover artists who don’t earn enough in royalties to qualify for benefits, so long as they remain on the label’s roster.

Sources estimate the industry will pay about $1.7 million a year to extend coverage to those artists, with costs running about $1,270 a year for each performer.

Artist advocates credited the big companies -- Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Bertelsmann Music Group and EMI Group -- with agreeing to expand coverage even as they incur a third year of flagging album sales.

“The industry, I think, recognized not only the merits of our argument but the importance of providing security for the artists that make their business run,” said Kim Roberts, AFTRA associate national executive director.

The agreement also would require labels to increase contributions to artist pensions, calculated as a percentage of their royalty earnings, by about 10%.

The proposed deal runs from June 2002, when the old pact expired, through June 2006.

The deal is the latest win for artists who have said the industry and union have done too little for fading artists who once fed the corporations’ bottom lines.


Last year, the estates of singers Mary Wells, Curtis Mayfield and others obtained an $8.4-million settlement of a class-action suit against an arm of AFTRA. The suit claimed AFTRA’s pension division had failed to police record-label contributions to artists’ accounts.

Mitch Bainwol, chairman of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, which represents the companies, said, “We are thrilled that we were able to reach an agreement to provide these benefits, especially given the current economics of our business.”