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Steward Health Care System and the union representing about 5,000 of its hospital workers signed a new labor contract that maintains health benefits and gives employees a 5.5 percent raise over three years.

The agreement sets a $15 per hour minimum wage -- what many consider a "living wage" -- for workers at five Steward hospitals by November 2018. Several other hospitals also have moved to a $15 starting wage.

Steward, a for-profit company, operates nine community hospitals across Eastern Massachusetts, including St. Elizabeth's Medical Center and Carney Hospital in Boston.

Steward employees in service, clerical, and technical jobs are represented by the Service Employees International Union, Local 1199. It is the largest health care workers union in Massachusetts, with about 52,000 members. The contract runs from Nov. 1, 2016, to Oct. 31, 2019.

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The negotiations between Steward and SEIU were more pleasant than another recent labor negotiation, between Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which almost resulted in a strike.


Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.