Qwest union seeks OK to strike
Authorization vote is routine part of talks

By Jeff Smith, Rocky Mountain News
Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Qwest Communications' union employees have started the routine process of voting on whether to authorize a strike in case contract negotiations collapse.

Communications Workers of America Local 7777, which has hired a public relations firm, is using the occasion to paint a pessimistic picture of early bargaining and to turn up the rhetoric, informally charging Qwest with acting in bad faith.

Negotiations started last month, and the current contract expires at midnight Aug. 13.

"It is early in the process, but of the more than 35 proposals from Qwest discussed to date, none have been satisfactory," Duncan Harrington, president of CWA Local 7777, said in a statement.

Local 7777 represents 3,000 Qwest employees in the Denver area.

But the top official at CWA District 7, which oversees the bargaining for 25,000 Qwest union employees, was more diplomatic.

"It's too early to tell how serious they are on some of those things," Annie Hill, vice president of District 7, said of Qwest's initial proposals.  "I don't want to start bargaining in the press."

Said Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs:  "We're grateful to have a strong, positive working relationship with our unions."

Harrington, Hill and Toevs agree a strike-authorization vote is a normal part of the process and generally starts about this time.

That's because it takes CWA locals a while to reach all their members, and the results - due Aug. 5 - need to be in hand before the current contract expires.  An affirmative vote authorizes the national CWA office to call a strike under certain conditions.

Harrington said union employees are committed to their jobs and hope they can reach a fair agreement with Qwest.  "But we refuse to turn back the clock on the progress made in past negotiations and are prepared to strike, if necessary."

Issues include wages, health care and job security.  CWA agreed to a wage freeze two years ago.

Harrington also is concerned about a Qwest proposal enabling the company to require union employees to work as many as 16 hours of overtime a week, up from eight hours.

What's at issue

Some key points of contract:

Wages

Health care premiums and benefits

Job security, such as limiting outsourcing

Overtime