The Association of U S West Retirees



Qwest, CWA reach 4-year labor agreement
By Jeff Smith
Rocky Mountain News
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Updated October 11, 2008 at 1:50 a.m.

Qwest Communications and its largest union reached a tentative agreement late Friday night on a new contract that calls for a 12.55 percent wage increase over four years and modest health-care premium sharing.

The agreement between the Denver telco and the Communications Workers of America covers 20,000 Qwest workers in 13 states.  The members still must ratify the agreement; results are expected by Oct. 31.

The agreement is nearly identical to one hammered out in August a week before the Democratic National Convention, but rejected by CWA members in late September.

The major change is the addition of a fourth contract year with wage increases.  The rejected tentative agreement called for a 9.73 percent wage increase over three years.

Analysts viewed Qwest as recently gaining the upper hand in the negotiations because of the country’s financial turmoil.  Qwest recently cut some non-union jobs in its network and mass market groups.

"We recognize that to deliver the certainty of a four-year agreement to our membership in troubled economic times is a win for our people and a win for Qwest," said Louise Caddell, vice president of CWA District 7.

Rich Baer, Qwest’s general counsel and chief administrative officer, said the overall compensation for the workers compares favorably to national averages.

"While economic pressures are challenging, especially in the face of rising health care costs and the recent financial crisis, we feel it is the right thing to do to stand by the offer we made in August 2008 of fair increases in wages and modest monthly premiums,” Baer said.

Qwest and the CWA said the agreement, like the one rejected earlier, calls for a $75 a month contribution for family coverage in the company's standard health-care plan.  If an employee chooses to participate in a high-deductible plan instead, family coverage will cost only $5 per month.

The union has said this is the first time its members would have to share in paying premiums, although the last contract called for modest “enrollment fees.”

Post-1990 retirees face higher premium sharing, again similar to the agreement that was rejected earlier.  Pre-1991 retirees are protected legally from increased health-care costs.

Qwest noted in a statement that management workers face much higher health-care premium sharing.

In 2007, Qwest said management workers selecting the standard health-care plan paid an average of $370 per month for family coverage, and the national average for similar plans was about $480 a month.

The tentative labor agreement also calls for a pension increase of 3 percent for eligible union workers retiring from the company after Oct. 12, 2008.