The Association of U S West Retirees



Qwest union rejects contract
By Jeff Smith
Rocky Mountain News
Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Members of Qwest Communications' largest union have rejected a contract that would have increased wages by 9.73 percent over three years but required health care premium-sharing for the first time.

"It wasn't close," Al Kogler, spokesman for District 7 of the Communications Workers of America, said Tuesday after ballots had been tallied.  The CWA represents about 20,000 Qwest employees.

Kogler said he expected union employees to be at their jobs today, while company management and union leadership discuss possible plans to restart bargaining.

"What I've heard at this point is anecdotal but a lot of basic dignity and respect issues, and I think (how the retirees were treated) may be a big piece," Kogler said.

Post-1990 retirees along with union employees would have faced health care premiums for the first time.  Pre-1991 retirees are protected from increased health care costs by a legal agreement.

Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs stressed the Denver telco "remains completely operational."

"I think it's fair to say that we're disappointed," Toevs said.  "It's puzzling the members would reject the stability of good wages and benefits over the uncertainty of a prolonged contract dispute -- especially given the economy."

The CWA already has authorized a strike as a last resort.  Qwest said it has reactivated its strike-contingency plan.

Talks between the parties were contentious over health care and wages, but the two sides were able to reach a tentative agreement in mid-August, avertinga possible strike before the Democratic National Convention.

The CWA has long resisted health care premium-sharing, but the issue was a top priority for Qwest, which, like other companies, has experienced rising health care costs.

Mimi Hull, president of the Association of U S West Retirees, expressed surprise the contract was rejected.