The Association of U S West Retirees



Qwest retirees come out fighting
Group plans rallies, letters, possible suit over benefit caps
By Jeff Smith
Rocky Mountain News
Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Qwest retirees group plans to fight benefit cuts by staging rallies, writing letters to company directors, talking to lawmakers and possibly filing a lawsuit. The Association of U S West Retirees' board came up with its plan during an all-day meeting Thursday near Denver.

Retirees are angry because Qwest Chief Executive Dick Notebaert last month notified them that the Denver telco would be capping health care and life-insurance benefits for thousands of retirees.  The health care caps affect only nonunion workers who retired after 1990.

Nelson Phelps, executive director of the Association of U S West Retirees, said the group already held a rally in Omaha and plans to organize similar events in other major cities in Qwest's local phone region, including Denver.

Members have sent hundreds of letters and e-mails to Notebaert, and the group is starting to send those letters to the directors of the board as well.  And the retirees' group is considering filing legal action over the life insurance issue, if Qwest doesn't show a change of heart within the next 90 days.

The company is capping life-insurance benefits for all retirees at $10,000 starting Jan. 1.  Previously, the benefit was equivalent to a year's salary.

Phelps said he has heard of seriously ill members who are considering going off medication because their families were counting on much larger life insurance benefits.

"Since Democrats have swept the House and Senate, we'll be contacting our Congress people and try to tell our story and see if we can get some support," Phelps said.

Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs said it was a difficult decision for Qwest to cap the benefits of some of its retirees but noted that the benefit packages overall remain competitive.

Health care costs for all companies, he added, are rising at two to four times the rate of inflation.  Most companies already require retirees to pay portions of their premiums.  Toevs said the health care caps will affect only 9,000 of 48,000 retirees.

Qwest will continue paying premiums for retirees who left before 1991 in accordance with a legal agreement.  And Qwest is continuing to pay the full premiums of union retirees as a result of recent contract negotiations.

Toevs noted that Notebaert himself notified the retirees group of the decision last month, rather than leave it to a human resources official.

Retirees also have complained that they haven't had a pension increase in a decade.  Toevs said Qwest hasn't paid a cost-of-living increase because it's had to invest in other areas to avert a possible bankruptcy in 2002 and to ensure the company's ability to survive in the future.

"The challenge this company faces every day is to balance its costs and resources," Toevs said.

Retirees also were upset this week when three executives including Notebaert netted a total of $43 million from stock option sales.  Notebaert said he will give the after-tax profits of his $18.4 million to charities.,2777,DRMN_23910_5135588,00.html