NEW YORK — A strike at Bloomingdale’s 59th Street flagship has been averted — and well before the 11th hour.

The management of Bloomingdale’s and leaders of Local 3 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union reached a tentative agreement, both sides said in a statement Wednesday. Details were not disclosed.

This story first appeared in the May 1, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The union’s previous four-year contract expired on March 1, but talks had been extended through Wednesday. The union had authorized a strike if an agreement couldn’t be reached by 6 p.m. Wednesday. On Monday, Bloomingdale’s executives began discussing contingency plans. It would have been the first strike at the store in 43 years.

However, Bloomingdale’s and the union failed to reach an agreement on one issue — health care — and will continue to negotiate that point for two more weeks.

The tentative settlement is subject to ratification by the union membership today.

“We’ve agreed to everything except the health plan,” said Stuart Applebaum, president of RWDSU. “We’ve concluded most of our negotiations, but will continue to negotiate over the health plan for two more weeks, until midnight on May 15.”

Besides health care, a major concern for the union was compensation. The union objected to Bloomingdale’s proposal for merit increases and wanted the retailer to guarantee wages.

The retailer’s employees at the flagship have received health benefits through a fund jointly administered by labor and management. The union said Bloomingdale’s wants to make changes in the health plan that will shift more of the costs to employees. Applebaum on Wednesday said the retailer and union continued negotiating “the health care piece and we’re optimistic we’ll find a solution.”

“When it became clear that the health care plan would take significantly more time to negotiate than remained before the contract deadline, Bloomingdale’s and union negotiators agreed that an additional two weeks of in-depth review was the most judicious move,” said Anne Keating, senior vice president of public relations for Bloomingdale’s. “Substantial work has been done to reach agreement on all the other issues pertaining to this contract, and we now look forward to continuing forthright, respectful talks on this final point.”

“The [negotiations] are a lesson to other retailers in New York,” Applebaum said. “Retail is the job of entry for workers in New York these days, with one out of every five people working in retail. If Bloomingdale’s is able to reach an agreement with a union, then other retailers can do the same. Bloomingdale’s is an icon in New York. It sets the trend for other retailers in the city.”

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