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The Nova Scotia Highway Workers Union (CUPE Local 1867) has narrowly ratified the first contract it has negotiated with the province since 1989.

The vote, counted Wednesday, was 50.4% in favor and 46.9% against. A total of 1,117 ballots were cast, 563 in favor, 523 against and 31 spoiled. The union has approximately 1,500 members.

Union president Gareth Drinnan of Baddeck said members made several gains.

The contract includes an average $1 an hour increase over two years in the current average rate of $12.74 an hour, improvements in seniority, and improvements for casuals, who will become regular union members after two years instead of three years, and after working fewer hours.

The latter change means that 200 and 250 casuals will become immediately eligible for holiday pay, vacation pay and pensions benefits, Drinnan said.

“But the sticking point was money,” he added. “Even though we got a raise of about 8%, which his higher than most public sector workers, a lot of our members felt it should have been more after so many years of wage freezes and rollbacks.”

Drinnan also said members were also upset at changes in sick leave and Workers’ Compensation, which could result in benefit losses. They were also disappointed that, while their new contract runs from Nov. 1, 1997, to Oct. 31, 1999, their new pay levels are retroactive only to Aug. 1, 1998.

They also object to larger geographical work areas, he said.