NStar, Union Reach Contract Agreement By GREG SUKIENNIK

The Associated Press Sunday, May 29, 2005; 4:03 AM BOSTON -- Gas and electric utility NStar and a union representing about 1,900 workers who went on strike nearly two weeks ago reached a tentative agreement on a four-year contract, negotiators said. The deal was reached at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday after both sides were ordered back to the table by a federal mediator after failing to reach an agreement during the day. Neither side would disclose details of the agreement.

About 1,900 engineers, linemen and other employees represented by the Utility Workers Union of America Local 369 _ nearly two-thirds of NStar's workers _ began striking May 16 after a five-year contract expired and talks on a new agreement ended without resolution. Gary Sullivan, president of the union local, said a ratification vote was expected to take place Tuesday or Wednesday. He said the union would remain on strike until then. "The bargaining committee is unanimously recommending that members accept (the deal), which is big," he said. Company spokeswoman Caroline Allen said a meeting was scheduled Sunday to work out details of the agreement and the company was looking forward to the workers' return. Key points of contention had included the proposed elimination of vision and dental care for retirees, forced overtime and pension benefit cuts for new workers. NStar was forced to use contract workers and managers to restore power outages during last week's nor'easter. The Boston-based utility serves about 1.1 million electric customers and 300,000 natural gas customers in the Boston metropolitan area, Worcester and coastal areas from Cape Cod to Cape Ann.