NStar, union reach tentative deal
By NANCY COOK, Standard-Times staff writer

DAVID W. OLIVEIRA/Standard-Times special
Bruce Gadbois, left, and David Emond protest yesterday in front of NStar in New Bedford. The company and its union reportedly came to a tentative contract deal yesterday.
NEW BEDFORD -- NStar, the gas and utility company, and its union of roughly 1,900 employees reached a tentative four-year contract deal early yesterday morning following a two-week strike.
Neither NStar nor union officials would disclose the new contract's details -- although the union's bargaining committee unanimously supported it.
In a written statement, NStar said the new contract would give the company "added flexibility" with employees' schedules and would include the hiring of additional workers.
If the union members approve the agreement when they're expected to meet tomorrow, they could resume work by Thursday, said union member Phil Trombly.
NStar spokeswoman Caroline Allen said the company was looking forward to the workers' return.
About 1,900 engineers, linemen and other employees represented by the Utility Workers Union of America Local 369 -- nearly two-thirds of NStar's work force -- began striking May 16 after a five-year contract expired and talks on a new agreement ended without resolution.
Specifically, NStar and the union argued over retirees' vision and dental benefits, pension cuts for new employees and forced overtime.
Until the new contract is signed, NStar employees plan to continue their strike.
Roughly 10 union members sat outside the NStar entrances off MacArthur Drive yesterday. Wearing fleece jackets and rain slickers, they wondered aloud what the tentative contract meant for their future.
Fifty-four-year-old Dave Emond said he was most concerned about his pension benefits, since he's eligible for retirement in one year. "It becomes important at my age," he said as he walked up and down Route 18 wearing a protest sign.
Other employees said they would approve the new contract only if it keeps their medical benefits intact. Grace Pereira of Dartmouth, who has worked for NStar for 29 years, said she needs medical benefits to support herself and her husband.
"Once you give up benefits, it's like a cancer," said Glenn LeCasse, a substation electrician. "Fighting for benefits is why I've been sitting out here."
Bruce Gadvois, who works as a fleet mechanic, said he'd like the new contract to address the issue of forced overtime, which "disrupts your personal life," he said. "They just think they own you."
None of the union members knew what the new contract would bring. Between reading paperback books, drinking coffee and waving to passing cars, the union members discussed the uncertainty the strike has inflicted on their lives.
Every morning, Mr. LeCasse said he dials the union's hot line to learn the latest details. "I wake up at 5 a.m.," he said. "Usually, there's nothing new to report."