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National Grid strike averted.

Byline: Bob Kievra; Winston W. Wiley

WORCESTER - National Grid reached a tentative agreement last night with one of two unions that represent its electric workers, hours before the existing contract was set to expire at midnight.

The four-year pact between the power company and the Utility Workers Union of America, which represents about 1,300 National Grid electric workers in New England, calls for a 12 percent pay increase over four years, a "modest improvement" in the benefits package, staffing increases and a routine maintenance program, according to Gary Sullivan, president of Local 330 out of Braintree.

"Like any negotiations, there's always concessions on both sides, but the locals that were involved in this negotiation, what we're most proud of is that we achieved this agreement with National Grid when we were so far apart such a short time ago," he said.

Negotiations have been in progress at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Worcester for several weeks, with the parties meeting around the clock over the past couple of days, Mr. Sullivan said.

The UWUA and about 25 members of its negotiation team reached an agreement with company negotiators about 6 p.m., but were still working on details and language of the contract at 11:30 last night.

Negotiations were set to continue today between the company and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents about 575 National Grid union employees. The two contracts were being worked out in tandem, and the IBEW has agreed to continue working under terms of the current agreement -which also expired at midnight last night- while negotiations continue.

The IBEW has four locals in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

"We believe the agreement is in the best interest of our customers, our employees and our company," Cheryl LaFleur, acting CEO of National Grid's U.S. electricity distribution business, said of the UWUA pact in a press release. "The agreement includes wage and staffing increases and other provisions that will enable National Grid to continue to serve our customers safely, reliably and efficiently."

UWUA has six locals in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

In recent days, the union said it had not made much progress on issues it termed important, such as worker safety and service reliability.

National Grid, the state's largest electric utility with 1.3 million customers in 169 communities, said it had made contingency plans for a strike.

Braintree-based Local 369 of the Utility Workers Union of America conducted a 16-day strike in 2005 against Boston-based NSTAR. The strike was settled with a new four-year contract that provided NSTAR with more staffing flexibility but without deep medical coverage and benefit concessions the utility originally sought.

National Grid reached a tentative agreement last month with Syracuse, N.Y.-based IBEW Local 97, which represents 3,210 National Grid workers in New York. The deal called for a three-year extension to the current contract, which was set to expire in 2008. The extension provides 3 percent wage increases and is contingent upon National Grid's successful purchase of natural gas provider KeySpan Corp.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 12, 2007
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