AFTRA’s board had signed off on a strike-authorization vote back in October after negotiations broke down for a successor agreement to the AFTRA National Code of Fair Practice for Sound Recordings. It’s the second-largest national contract and 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 Code generates more than $140 million annually in AFTRA-covered earnings and benefits for both major artists and session singers around the country. Here’s AFTRA’s release today:

LOS ANGELES (Dec. 15, 2011) – The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO – a national union of more than 70,000 recording artists, broadcasters, actors, singers, dancers and other performers who work across the spectrum of media industries including television, radio, cable, sound recordings and digital media – announced today that it has reached a tentative agreement with the recording industry on a new, successor agreement to AFTRA National Code of Fair Practice for Sound Recordings. The current Sound Recordings Code is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2011.

AFTRA members achieved an increase in base rates, as well as the key objective of increasing employer contributions to the AFTRA Health and Retirement Funds.

AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, who served as the Union’s chief negotiator said, “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.

“I want to especially thank all the dedicated members of bargaining committee, chaired by AFTRA National Vice President Jim Ferguson, and Randall Himes, Assistant National Executive Director of Sound Recordings, for their hard work and unwavering commitment to achieve a contract that benefits our members,” Hedgpeth added.

Highlights of the contract, which, subject to ratification, will run from Jan. 1, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2014, include:

Increase in base rates by more than 6% over the term of the agreement (2% increases effective each year of the contract)
Increase in the employer health and retirement contribution rate on royalty income by 1% over the life of the agreement
Maintained required special employer contributions which guarantee health insurance benefits for royalty artists on the current “roster” of a label, by increasing the maximum on employer contributions by 30%, from $5,000 to $6,500 per year
Improved and expanded performers’ base of participation in revenue from sale of digital downloads
Established a new 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, which will also enhance compliance and expedite payments to members

Following an all-day session in New York that ran late Wednesday, December 14, the tentative agreement was reached Thursday morning. Negotiations between AFTRA and representatives from UMG, Sony, Warner, EMI and Disney labels commenced in New York on 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.

The Sound Recordings Code, which originated in 1951 as the American Federation of Radio Artists (AFRA) Phonograph Recording Code, 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, in addition to audiobooks, comedy albums and cast albums. The Code generates more than $140 million annually in AFTRA-covered earnings and benefits for both major artists and session singers around the country.

Full details of the tentative agreement will be submitted to the AFTRA National Board for its approval, and then for formal ratification by members. Details on the ratification process will be announced shortly after the new year.