The Association of U S West Retirees



Qwest, unions reach tentative three-year pact
Agreement averts strike; members voting next month
By Roger Fillion and Jeff Smith
Rocky Mountain News
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Qwest Communications reached a tentative three-year labor agreement with two of its unions, averting a possible strike a week before the start of the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The deal applies to some 20,000 employees with the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

In a news release, the CWA said general wage increases total more than 9 percent compounded over the three years of the contract. Sales employees receiving commissions would receive an increase in their base salary as well. The settlement also provides a 3 percent increase in pensions.

Workers providing directory assistance services were brought under the main CWA agreement and would get a wage increase in the third year of the contract.

Union members are expected to vote on the deal in early September. "I'm thinking two to three weeks minimum," said CWA spokesman Al Kogler.

The deal was announced shortly after 1 a.m. Monday. It came after marathon bargaining sessions on Saturday and Sunday.

Negotiations had stalled over health care and wages shortly after the current contract expired at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. But the two sides resumed bargaining late Sunday afternoon with talks stretching into the night.

The two unions represent about 20,000 workers in 13 West and Midwest states, or 57 percent of Qwest's employees. The employees are mostly customer-service workers and technicians who install and maintain lines.

Qwest is the official phone and Internet provider to the DNC and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul. It's donating up to $6 million in services to each convention.

Negotiations began in early July.

The two unions agreed on a new contract with Verizon a week ago. New York-based Verizon agreed to boost workers' wages nearly 11 percent over three years and the company agreed to continue to pay 100 percent of current employee and retiree health premiums.

By contrast, the Qwest deal "mitigated cost increases" for active workers and retirees, according to the CWA.

"I appreciate the collaborative effort the bargaining teams made in confronting key issues facing employees and Qwest, especially health care," said Teresa Taylor, executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Qwest.

The Qwest pact shares some similarities with the Verizon deal. But one union official noted that Verizon is a more financially healthy company.

"We didn't get everything we wanted," CWA District 7 Vice President Louise Caddell said in a statement.

"But we achieved the best settlement possible in light of Qwest's struggle to regain its financial health."

Contract details

The tentative three-year pact between Qwest and its two unions, as outlined by the Communications Workers of America:

* General wage increases total more than 9 percent compounded over the three years.

* Sales employees receiving commissions would get an increase in their base salary as well.

* Pensions would increase by 3 percent.

* Workers providing directory assistance services would come under the main CWA agreement and get a wage hike in the third year of the contract.

* New language governs work quotas for technicians under the "quality jobs per day" provision that had been a sticking point between the sides.

* Job security was "strengthened" for building maintenance workers and other job titles.

* The health care plan agreed upon "mitigated" cost increases for active and retired employees.