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Qwest, union agree to buyouts for some workers
By Crayton Harrison
Bloomberg News Service
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Denver-based Qwest Communications International Inc. reached an agreement with union officials on voluntary buyouts for about 700 workers to cut costs as customers shut off phone lines.

The program, to be completed March 27, will affect less than 2 percent of the workforce, Qwest said in a statement today.  The company, which had about 36,800 employees at the end of 2007, will offer the buyout packages to workers in the land-line phone business based on years of service.

Customers abandoned their home phones last year for wireless service with larger rivals such as AT&T Inc. and plans offered by Comcast Corp. and other cable companies.  Qwest lost 9.1 percent of its residential lines in 2007, ending with 7.4 million.

"It's been a constant effort to balance that loss of workload with our workforce," Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs said today in an interview.  He wouldn't say how much the buyouts will cost or how much the company expects to save over time.

Qwest advanced 10 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $4.60 at 11:01 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.  The shares had fallen 36 percent this year before today.

Chief Executive Officer Edward Mueller, who joined the company in August after Richard Notebaert retired, is spending about $300 million this year to boost Internet speeds for home users, tripling last year's budget.  The faster connections may persuade more customers to stay with Qwest, Mueller said in an interview this month.

The financial impact of the buyout program will be recorded in first-quarter results, Toevs said.