updated 4/3/2006 7:52:02 AM ET 2006-04-03T11:52:02

Teamsters union members narrowly voted Sunday to approve a new contract with Sikorsky Aircraft, accepting contract terms similar to those they overwhelmingly rejected six weeks ago when they walked off the job.

Workers voted 1,488 to 1,416 on Sunday to accept the contract. The 3,500 union members met with union leadership in four shifts, during which union negotiators explained the proposal.

The deal covers workers at four sites in Connecticut and in West Palm Beach, Fla. The company said it expects the workers to return over the next week.

Union leaders did not endorse the company's proposal.

"Neither side won. We fought to a bloody draw," said John Murphy, the Teamsters vice president. He said the union would continue to press Sikorsky for improved health coverage.

Sikorsky president Jeff Pino said the company was pleased with the vote. Sikorsky had taken out full-page newspaper advertisements to appeal directly to union members to support the contract.

"Sikorsky now enters an exciting new era with tremendous opportunities for all of our employees, and the communities where we live and work," Pino said in a statement.

Thomas Altieri of Seymour, who has worked for Sikorsky for almost 26 years, said he voted against the contract proposal because he believed the company would have made a better offer.

"We've been slapped in the face by people who told us we were like family," he said.

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell said the agreement was good for the state and the nation.

"Getting these professionals back to work under a contract that will keep Sikorsky Aircraft strong for years to come is vital to our economy and jobs throughout the region. Sikorsky is part of the fabric of Connecticut," she said.

Both sides have been under increased pressure as the strike continued. Union members, paid about $25 an hour when on the job, were receiving only $220 a week in union-paid strike benefits. Sikorsky last week was moving to meet concerns by the U.S. Navy after the Navy said the strike was causing dwindling supplies of spare parts for its Seahawk helicopter, used in Iraq and around the world.

A key issue was health insurance. Union officials said the contract offer doubles workers' contributions to their health insurance in the first year of the three-year deal and increases them another 15 percent over the next two years.

Under the expired contract, the workers paid about $26 per week for family coverage.

George David, chairman of Sikorsky's parent company, United Technologies Corp., has said that the company would "stand firm" on the issue because workers throughout UTC's other divisions have agreed to the same kind of health care cost-sharing.

Sikorsky said its health care costs this year would be more than $16,000 per employee for family coverage, up from $9,800 four years ago.

Sikorsky spokesman Bud Grebey said the offer approved by the union Sunday includes a bigger ratification bonus and the option for workers to select retroactive health care coverage and reimbursement for payments they may have made for temporary insurance while on strike.

The contract includes 3.5 percent pay raises in each year, pension improvements and a ratification bonus of $3,000.

The strike, which started Feb. 20, was the first at the helicopter-maker since 1963.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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