NEW YORK — UNITE and Liz Claiborne Inc. completed negotiating a new three-year contract Thursday for the firm’s 1,500 distribution center employees in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. The contract takes effect June 1.

Bruce Raynor, president of the union, said a key aspect of the contract was that the employees would not pay more for health care.

“The company is paying the increase,” he said. “Health care costs are going up 15 to 20 percent a year and the workers would be ill-equipped to afford that.”

He noted that the 14 percent wage increase over the period, including a 5.5 percent increase the first year, was outpacing inflation, which is currently running at about 2 percent a year. He also noted that the union had secured a pledge of job security for the company’s 250 sample makers and cutters in the metropolitan area.

Because of Liz Claiborne’s large size, its contract traditionally has served as something of a benchmark for what UNITE seeks in its other negotiations. Raynor said there are currently many other contract negotiations going on, including talks for some Kmart Corp. facilities.

A Liz Claiborne spokeswoman confirmed the new contract had been reached.

The union said it is still negotiating collective-bargaining agreements covering workers at two Canadian Claiborne facilities that would also cover the next three years. Claiborne employees in a Lucky Brand facility in California and a newly constructed site in Ohio are covered by different agreements.

In a separate matter, an election is scheduled today in Miami to determine whether a majority of the employees at a Perry Ellis International distribution center wish to be represented by UNITE. However, the National Labor Relations Board plans to impound the ballots immediately after the election, as it is still investigating charges brought by the union claiming that PEI illegally laid off eight workers who had supported the union and gave remaining employees a raise to discourage union activity.

If those charges are upheld or settled, the election will likely be considered void, according to Karen LaMartin, assistant to the regional director for the Tampa office of the NLRB. If the charges are found to have no merit, the election will likely be considered valid, she added.As reported, the NLRB has already voided an earlier election because it found PEI violated labor laws prior to the voting. UNITE officials have claimed PEI officials are trying to prevent an election from being held. PEI officials have said they intend to abide by the results of the election, but want to be sure it is fair.

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