Qwest union OKs pact increasing wages 7.5%
Employer-paid health care part of CWA contract
By Jeff Smith, Rocky Mountain News
Saturday, October 1, 2005

Members of the largest union at Qwest Communications ratified by a 66 percent vote a new contract that boosts wages by 7.5 percent over three years and maintains employer-paid health care, officials said Friday.

Annie Hill, vice president of District 7 of the Communications Workers of America, said in a statement Friday that the agreement acknowledged the value of the union employees and that the workers were committed to helping rebuild the Denver telco.

The parties had reached the tentative agreement three days after the contract expired in mid-August, averting a potential strike.

CWA represents 25,000 workers in 13 of the 14 states in Qwest's local phone region.  A small group of union workers in Montana represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers also ratified a new contract with the company.

"We're grateful for the strong and productive relationships we have with the CWA and IBEW," said Qwest spokesman Robert Toevs.  "These contracts underscore the common, unwavering commitment to Qwest customers."

Although maintaining employer-paid health care, the CWA settlement introduces health enrollment fees for dependents, and the union failed to win additional job security provisions for customer-service employees.

But the union did get Qwest to agree to limit mandatory overtime to the current eight hours a week.  Workers had opposed any increase, saying mandatory overtime interferes with their efforts to balance their work and family responsibilities.  Qwest also agreed to drop a proposed two-tiered pension system that would have affected new employees.

Analysts, some of whom already had calculated wage increases into company forecasts, have said that the new agreement will have little financial impact on Qwest.

Qwest, weighed down by $17 billion of debt and losses in its core landline business, is struggling to gain traction in an intensely competitive, rapidly changing telecommunications industry.

The company thought it had a way to reverse its fortunes by buying MCI Inc. but lost out to Verizon.  This week, Qwest said it wouldn't make a new offer before the Verizon-MCI vote on Thursday, instead focusing on new services, streamlining operations and exploring other "strategic" opportunities.

Key contract provisions

  7.5 percent wage increase over three years

  Employer-paid health insurance maintained, but new enrollment fees for dependents

  Mandatory overtime limited to current eight hours a week.  Union fails to win additional job security gurantees for customer service employees.