updated 3/11/2007 6:40:04 PM ET 2007-03-11T22:40:04

Union locals representing 43,000 Stop & Shop supermarket workers in southern New England voted Sunday to approve a new three-year contract, averting a threatened strike that would have hit consumers in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Details of the agreement were not immediately available. The Quincy-based grocery chain and the United Food and Commercial Workers had gone into protracted negotiations to resolve differences over health care contributions, pensions and wages.

Stop & Shop’s “goal during the negotiating process was to reach agreements with competitive terms that will allow us to remain the leading supermarket in the marketplace,” the grocery chain said in a statement. “We believe these new contracts meet our goal and provide significantly improved wages and benefits.”

Stop & Shop, owned by the Dutch conglomerate Royal Ahold NV, was negotiating with the UFCW’s Local 1445, covering workers in eastern and central Massachusetts; Local 328, covering Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts; Local 1459, covering western Massachusetts; and two units representing Connecticut workers, locals 371 and 919.

Members of all five locals last month authorized leaders to call a strike if necessary.

The locals were negotiating as a group in talks that began in mid-December covering workers at 231 stores. Stop & Shop workers in New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire are covered under separate contracts.

A previous three-year labor contract expired Feb. 17, and employees have since remained on the job under terms of that agreement.

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