The Association of U S West Retirees



Qwest Lays Death Benefit to Rest
Albuquerque Journal
Michael Hartranft, Journal Staff Writer

December 30, 2009

      Qwest Communications will eliminate its pension death benefit for thousands of retirees, including many living in New Mexico, starting March 1 in a move it says will protect the pension fund and the company's financial health.
About 27,000 people who retired before 2004, were eligible for the benefit, an amount equivalent to their last year's salary.
     The Denver-based company, the main local phone provider in New Mexico and 13 other states, says the measure could cut its pension fund liabilities by about $220 million.
But the organization that represents New Mexico phone company retirees says Qwest is reneging on promises made to those who worked for the company and its predecessors.
"We have retirees who made their financial planning decisions on the basis they would get this benefit," said Irene Chavira, president of the 500-member Telephone Retirees Association-New Mexico, estimating at least three times that number of retirees live in the state. "And we feel it was a benefit promised to employees, but more importantly, earned by employees, when they were working."
       Qwest spokesman Nick Sweers called it "a very difficult decision. But there are two reasons: To protect the pension fund's ability to meet obligations to both current and future retirees, and secondly, we believe it is important to ensure the company's continued ... success."
       The company - whose predecessor was US West - has a total of about 50,000 retired employees, Sweers said. Employees who retired after Jan. 1, 2004, were not eligible for the benefit.
       Chavira, who also is on the board of the Association of US West Retirees, said the group is reviewing Qwest's decision and legal action is possible.
       Qwest reported a 6 percent drop in third-quarter profits as customers continue to give up traditional phone lines. It has a pending rate increase case before the Public Regulation Commission.