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Four-month Boston Gas Co. lockout ends

BOSTON -- Boston Gas Co. have workers approved a new six-year contract with the utility, ending a bitter, four-month lockout by the company of 1,100 employees.

The settlement was hammered out Thursday by company and union negotiators after an all-night bargaining session, and was approved later in the day by members of Local 12003 and Local 12007 of the United Steelworkers of America.

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The lockout began Jan. 25 after unionized workers rejected a company contract offer which sought to force workers to pay a share of their health insurance premiums for the first time.

The union's old contract expired at midnight Jan. 24, and the company said it could not take the risk of having installers, repairmen and other workers handling dangerous equipment who were not under contract.

The 17-week dispute was marked by numerous cases of damage to company gas lines and equipment, but union leaders adamantly denied any involvement in the vandalism.

Boston Gas, the largest gas company in New England with 300,000 customers in Boston and its surburbs, offered hefty rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the vandals.

Management personnel handled emergency repairs during the lockout, but installations of new heaters, stoves and other equipment were delayed for thousands of customers.

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Under the pact, employees will pay part of their health insurance premiums, the amount depending on which of four health plans an employee chooses, and the type of coverage.

The agreement also includes wage hikes of 4 percent each of the first three years of the contract, and increases of 4.5 percent, 4.25 percent and 4 percent the last three.

Company President Chester Messer said he expected it would take 10 days for the utility to resume normal operations.

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