updated 6/23/2006 12:06:40 PM ET 2006-06-23T16:06:40

The union representing 9,000 Alcoa Inc. workers at 15 U.S. plants ratified a new four-year contract, the company and union officials said Friday.

A majority of workers nationwide approved the contract, but some plants voted against the deal, said United Steelworkers spokesman Howard Scott. Scott would not say which locals supported or opposed the deal, and the union would not release an overall vote total.

“This new agreement improves the competitiveness of these locations, and is a good outcome for our employees, the company, the communities in which we operate, and for our customers,” said Alain Belda, Alcoa Chairman and CEO. “Both sides put a great deal of work into this agreement, which includes creative solutions to the issues we faced entering negotiations.

Pittsburgh-based Alcoa, which is the world’s largest aluminum producer, will take a charge of about 4 cents a share in the second quarter to cover costs related to the contract negotiations, including preparing for possible strikes at the affected plants.

The company planned to use managers to run the plant in case of a strike, but United Steelworkers reached a last-minute agreement with Alcoa during talks in St. Louis last month. Industry analysts said a strike would have little effect on the company’s operations, citing its international production capacity.

The deal includes average annual raises of 2.6 percent and a $1,500 ratification bonus for each worker, according to a statement from the union.

The union said the new deal includes a single family health insurance plan, instead of a multitiered plan proposed by the company, “that offers better coverage than what is available to the overwhelming majority of U.S. industrial workers.”

Under the deal, Alcoa will invest millions in a fund to cover retiree health care costs. New hires will be covered under the same health care plan and defined-benefit pension plan that current workers receive, instead of just individual retirement accounts. The deal also boosts pensions and sickness and accident benefits, the union said.

Union workers voted on the contract Thursday and were given the opportunity to ask questions about the deal.

The previous contract expired May 31, but was extended to allow the union time to inform its members of the details of the new agreement and to organize the vote.

The union workers represent about 20 percent of the company’s U.S. employees, but only about 7 percent of Alcoa’s global work force of 129,000.

The new contract covers workers at plants in Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

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