Aging Blues and Pop Singers Get Some Cash in L.A.
Thu Dec 5, 7:09 PM ET Add Entertainment -
By Sue Zeidler
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After singing the blues over medical bills for years, soul man Sam Moore and other aging pop stars have won a key legal battle against their union which they say cheated them out of millions of dollars in benefits.
After a final hearing on Wednesday in Atlanta, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) reached an $8.4 million settlement in the nine-year class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of Moore and the estates of Motown diva Mary Wells, Jackie Wilson and Curtis Mayfield.
"The resolution clearly addresses the concerns of class members, and establishes a strong foundation for future activities on behalf of recording artists who are eligible for health and pension benefits under the AFTRA contract," AFTRA National Executive Director Greg Hessinger said Thursday.
The suit, originally filed in 1993 by Moore, who was later joined by 14 other artists, claimed that the AFTRA Health and Retirement Fund -- the pension arm of AFTRA -- failed to aid Moore and others like Wells, who became destitute and in need of medical support after their popularity had waned.
The suit said that record companies in the 1950s and 1960s did not accurately report royalty earnings to the AFTRA fund and failed to make required contributions to pension accounts.
Singer Mary Wells, once one of Motown's biggest stars, died destitute in 1992 at the age of 49 of throat cancer in a charity ward, while Moore, who was half of the hit rhythm & blues duo "Sam and Dave" with late partner Dave Prater, continues to tour to make ends meet after descending into a well-chronicled lifelong battle with drug addiction.
One obstacle to a settlement in the years-long battle with AFTRA was that the AFTRA fund was a separate legal entity from the union. But Hessinger in a statement on Thursday said that the union several months ago decided to intervene in the case on behalf of recording artists to ensure their rights would be protected.
A fund from settlement proceeds will be created to cover the costs of successful claims and improvements to the claims process, including the retention of an independent consultant to review the funds' procedures in evaluating claims.
AFTRA, which has 80,000 members nationwide, is the collective bargaining representative for recording artists, actors, broadcasters and other professionals in the media and entertainment industries.
The union resumed negotiations with the recording industry on Wednesday to reach a new sound recording contract, covering health and retirement benefits for recording artists.
The contract expired in May, when negotiations first began. The talks however went on hiatus in July until this week.
"We resumed negotiations on Wednesday and are hoping to reach a settlement by Friday," said a spokeswoman for AFTRA.
According to sources familiar with the negotiations, both sides are nearing a pact that would provide full health care coverage for all artists on all major labels.
Officials from the Recording Industry Association of America (news - web sites) (RIAA), the trade group for the world's major labels, declined to comment.