Qwest, CWA reach
4-year labor agreement
By Jeff Smith
Rocky Mountain News
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Updated October 11, 2008 at 1:50 a.m.
Qwest Communications and its largest union reached a tentative
agreement late Friday night on a new contract that calls for a
12.55 percent wage increase over four years and modest
health-care premium sharing.
The agreement between the
telco and the Communications Workers of America covers 20,000
Qwest workers in 13 states. The members still must ratify
the agreement; results are expected by Oct. 31.
The agreement is nearly identical to one hammered out in August
a week before the Democratic National Convention, but rejected
by CWA members in late September.
The major change is the addition of a fourth contract year with
wage increases. The rejected tentative agreement called
for a 9.73 percent wage increase over three years.
Analysts viewed Qwest as recently gaining the upper hand in the
negotiations because of the country’s financial turmoil.
Qwest recently cut some non-union jobs in its network and mass
"We recognize that to deliver the certainty of a four-year
agreement to our membership in troubled economic times is a win
for our people and a win for Qwest," said Louise Caddell, vice
president of CWA District 7.
Rich Baer, Qwest’s general counsel and chief administrative
officer, said the overall compensation for the workers compares
favorably to national averages.
"While economic pressures are challenging, especially in the
face of rising health care costs and the recent financial
crisis, we feel it is the right thing to do to stand by the
offer we made in August 2008 of fair increases in wages and
modest monthly premiums,” Baer said.
Qwest and the CWA said the agreement, like the one rejected
earlier, calls for a $75 a month contribution for family
coverage in the company's standard health-care plan. If an
employee chooses to participate in a high-deductible plan
instead, family coverage will cost only $5 per month.
The union has said this is the first time its members would have
to share in paying premiums, although the last contract called
for modest “enrollment fees.”
Post-1990 retirees face higher premium sharing, again similar to
the agreement that was rejected earlier. Pre-1991 retirees
are protected legally from increased health-care costs.
Qwest noted in a statement that management workers face much
higher health-care premium sharing.
In 2007, Qwest said management workers selecting the standard
health-care plan paid an average of $370 per month for family
coverage, and the national average for similar plans was about
$480 a month.
The tentative labor agreement also calls for a pension increase
of 3 percent for eligible union workers retiring from the
company after Oct. 12, 2008.