The Association of U S West Retirees



Retirees claim 'threat' by Qwest

By Jack King
Journal Staff Writer

Monday, July 28, 2008

          In the latest development in an on-going legal battle, representatives of a Qwest retirees association charge the company's lawyers have threatened the phone company's retirees' with the loss of the life insurance in their retirement packages.
        They are protesting a statement in a legal filing by Qwest attorneys that says, in part, "if plaintiffs prevail on their claims .. Qwest can recoup the amounts it saved by terminating all Plan benefits for still-living Eligible Retirees."
        Qwest spokeswoman Diane Reberger told the Journal that the legal filing merely outlines the company's legal strategy in the case, in response to the association's attorneys request for class action status. The statement does not constitute a threat to retirees, she said.
        According to the Denver Post, the Association of US West Retirees filed a lawsuit against Qwest in 2006 in U.S. District Court in Denver challenging a reduction by the company of the life-insurance benefit received as part of a retirement package. The plan originally guaranteed a minimum of $20,000 to survivors of those who retired before 1996 and a minimum of $30,000 to survivors of those who retired after 1996. Qwest has lowered the benefit to $10,000.
        Only seven plaintiffs originally were named in the suit and the association has moved to make it a class action suit, the Post said.
        Irene Chavira, a former US West vice president, and president of the retirees association's New Mexico branch, called the words in the filing "a threat" to phone company retirees.
        She said many of the people affected by Qwest's reduction of the benefit were employees of US West, and even of Mountain Bell. While it's unknown how many telephone company retirees live in New Mexico, the association has about 600 members in the state, she added.
        "These retirees have been counting on these life insurance benefits and maybe had made decisions not to buy other policies, because they had those benefits," she said.
        She added that, if the association wins in its lawsuit, she doesn't understand how the company could take away the benefits.
        "Prevailing would mean we were correct in our premise, that we are entitled to and had earned those benefits," she said.
        But, Reberger pointed out that the section including the controversial quote also includes a legal argument based on a previous court ruling that "a plaintiff cannot maintain a class action when his interests are antagonistic to, or in conflict with, the interests of the persons he would seek to represent."
        Other phone company retirees likely would not seek the relief sought in the plaintiff's claims if they knew the relief could jeopardize all benefits to all class members under the package's life insurance plan, and significant benefits that many have received under its health plan, the legal filing states.
        In response, Chavira said that, as a nonlawyer, she can only draw a conclusion based on the words themselves.
        "The quote was forwarded to us from our attorney and he's the one who called them 'a threat,'" she added.