BEDFORD, Va. (March 30)—After more than a year and a half of working without a contract, union employees at Rubatex Corp.´s Bedford foam rubber plant have a new 3 1/2-year deal. The agreement, ratified March 27 by the membership of United Steelworkers Local 240, is effective March 15 of this year through Sept. 10, 2004. The lapse date is exactly five years from the day the previous three-year Rubatex/USWA contract expired, which preceded the walkout by Local 240´s 411 members. The strike lasted for nine months, with the company hiring replacement workers during its duration. Union workers returned to the job without a pact June 19, 2000. The deal still must be approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. Rubatex and the other subsidiaries of Roanoke-based RBX Corp. filed for Chapter 11 protection Dec. 7.