AUSWR
The Association of U S West Retirees
 

 

 

Suit weighed over Qwest's retiree cuts
Despite the telecom's caps on health care and life insurance, Qwest is one of the few that provide them.
By Andy Vuong, Staff Writer
Denver Post
Thursday, October 26, 2006

Qwest's decision to cap health-care and life-insurance for retirees has drawn the fire of attorney Curtis Kennedy, who has won many court battles on behalf of former phone-company employees.

"We're going to go after them," Kennedy said.

But Denver-based Qwest is still among a shrinking number of companies that offer such benefits to former employees amid surging coverage costs.

Only 35 percent of companies with 200 or more workers provide any health benefits to retirees, down from 66 percent in 1988, according to a 2006 study by Health Research & Educational Trust and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.  That figure has hovered around 35 percent since 2000.

Starting in January, Qwest will require nonunion employees who retired after 1990 to pay for any increases in health-care premiums.  The company also is capping life-insurance coverage for all retirees at $10,000.  Previously, the benefit was equivalent to one year's annual salary.

John Bliven, 57, retired in 2002 after 30 years working for Qwest.  He said his health-insurance premium is increasing from $106 a month this year to $201 in 2007.  When Qwest still paid a portion of the increase, the premium rose by only $11 between 2005 and 2006.

His life-insurance benefit will drop from $79,000 to $10,000.

"There's always worse," he said Wednesday.  "I get free local telephone service.  They could take that away."

Kennedy, a lawyer who represents Qwest's retirees association, said he is gathering information to fight the benefits changes in court.  Kennedy also is handling a case slated to go to trial in January that pits the retirees against Qwest over the company's effort to end a pension death benefit.

The retirees association estimates that there are 50,000 to 60,000 Qwest retirees nationwide, including about 7,000 in Colorado.

Nicolas Sweers, a spokesman for Qwest, said the company doesn't comment about pending and possible litigation.

Sweers said the decision to cap benefits was "difficult" but that the company has to balance the needs of its retirees with those of the company as a whole.

Qwest, which acquired U S West in 2000, is the dominant local-phone-service provider in Colorado and 13 other states.

Staff writer Andy Vuong can be reached at 303-954-1209 or avuong@denverpost.com

http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_4551169