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Utility strike averted; Tentative OK on agreement.

Byline: Bob Kievra

NORTHBORO - Unionized call center workers yesterday reached a tentative three-year contract with National Grid, averting a possible strike affecting 175 employees.

Utility Workers Union of America Local 369 said the deal includes a 9 percent wage increase over the life of the contract and the establishment of a safety committee. The union, which alleged stressful and unsafe working conditions existed at the Bearfoot Road facility, said the new committee will address their concerns on the topic.

Members of the union last week authorized a possible strike if a new contract wasn't obtained yesterday, when the former four-year pact expired.

"We are pleased that there will be no interruption of work and that National Grid has acknowledged the hard work of its employees with this contract,'' Gary Sullivan, Local 369 president, said in a statement.

The deal will be voted on by union members next week.

Jackie Barry, a spokeswoman for National Grid, the country's second-largest utility, said "we're very pleased'' with the new agreement. She declined further comment.

Call center representatives take calls from customers reporting power outages or from those who have questions on their bills. The workers field calls from electricity customers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island along with natural gas customers in Rhode Island.

Negotiations were conducted at a Milford hotel and extended through the weekend, officials said.

Mr. Sullivan said current workers have a starting salary of $14 per hour and pay 20 percent of their health benefits. Mr. Sullivan said last week the company wanted new hires to start at $9 an hour and pay 50 percent of their health benefits.

Mr. Sullivan said yesterday that both starting pay and benefits for new hires will not be changed under the new contract.

He also said the tentative deal includes protective language that precludes the company from outsourcing jobs.

National Grid last year inked a four-year pact between the utility and another 1,300 electric workers represented by the UWUA.

That deal called for a 12 percent pay increase over four years, some modest benefit package improvements, staffing increases and a routine maintenance program, union officials said at the time.

Local 369 staged a 16-day strike against Boston-based NStar in 2005. The strike ended in a four-year contract that included a 12 percent pay raise and increased employee medical plan contributions, the union and company officials said at the time.
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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 1, 2008
Words:399
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