AUSWR
The Association of U S West Retirees
 

 

 

Qwest employees anything but surprised

 

By Kevin Vaughan
The Denver Post

April 23, 2010

 

It is not clear how many of the roughly 30,000 workers now employed at Qwest ultimately would keep their jobs once the deal is completed.   Anyone who has spent any time in the telecommunications business in Denver knew the one constant in a volatile world was change.  And so on Thursday, as current and former workers at Qwest and its corporate predecessors digested the news of its $22 billion takeover by CenturyTel, there was a mixture of emotions but surprise was not among them.  "I knew, eventually, something was going to happen because the industry couldn't maintain its current state of affairs," said Mike Tomlinson, a 33-year veteran of the finance department. "It was just a matter of when and who was going to do it."

 

 Analysts expect the deal to result in layoffs, with Colorado probably bearing the brunt of the cuts as headquarters operations are shifted to CenturyTel's hometown of Monroe, La.

But workers outside Qwest's downtown tower seemed less focused on those prospects and instead approached the announcement more philosophically.  Tomlinson began work at Mountain Bell, watched the breakup of the Bell system and the transformation into U S West Communications, and then the takeover by Qwest.   "You learn to live with it," he said of the uncertainty. "My position has always been be prepared for anything."

Victor Kinard, a sales representative who is five years into his career at Qwest, was almost giddy at the possibilities a few hours after the announcement.  "I'm excited," Kinard said as he took a break next to a fountain in front of the Qwest building at 1801 California St. "Our area of sales is going to be expanding."

Speculation had been rampant in recent months that Qwest was ripe for a takeover.  "This has been a long time coming," said Joe Halpern, former Colorado president of the Association of U S West Retirees. "Frankly, I thought something like this would happen many years ago."

Kinard said there were times when he feared what might be looming for the company.  Thursday's news was, in his estimation, about as far from doom-and-gloom as he could get.  "Of all the things that could have happened, I'll take this," said Kinard, who sells a range of services to mid-market businesses.  But there was still a lot that wasn't known.

In particular, it wasn't clear how many of the roughly 30,000 workers now employed at Qwest ultimately would keep their jobs once the transition is completed about a year from now.

"At this point, there is a whole lot of stuff that isn't nailed down, but certainly, we look forward to being a part of that process," said Al Kogler of the Communications Workers of America, the union for about 18,300 Qwest workers in 14 states.

And it isn't just current workers who have been carefully watching the company. Thousands of retirees don't know what the takeover might mean for their benefits.

"I think, quite frankly, we've all been looking for something to put Qwest on a firmer financial footing," said Mimi Hull, president of the Association of U S West Retirees. "I'm hopeful this is it."  Hull began her career at Mountain Bell roughly 40 years ago, rode out divestiture and the change to U S West, and spent the past 15 years watching the business as a retiree.  She was glad to hear that CenturyTel executives have experience managing benefits for their former workers.

For Tomlinson and Kinard, the change announced Thursday may mean a decision at some point in the future such as possibly moving out of state. For Tomlinson, a Colorado native, that may be a difficult day. "This is home," he said.  Kinard sounded less worried at the prospect of moving.  "Opportunities in this economy you've got to look at them all," he said.

Kevin Vaughan: 303-954-5019 or kvaughan@denverpost.com