Verizon labor deal could bode well for Denver telco
By Jeff Smith
Rocky Mountain News
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
A Verizon labor agreement Sunday that averted a potential strike
could bode well for successful Qwest-union talks, though both
sides were quick to say Monday the financial situation is
Talks between Qwest and its unions are in a critical phase, with
the contract covering 20,000 union employees expiring Sunday at
12:01 a.m. That's just a week before the Democratic
National Convention in Denver and two weeks before the Republican
National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Some see the timing as giving the union leverage, since Qwest is
the official telecommunications provider at both conventions.
But Qwest, which recently lowered its full-year financial
forecast, may be under pressure to get a better labor deal and
more health-care concessions than Verizon did.
Verizon averted a potential strike when the Communications
Workers of America and other unions agreed to an 11 percent wage
increase over three years. The deal also calls for 600
business-unit workers to transfer to the union, 900 temporary
jobs to become full-time union positions and Verizon to continue
to pay 100 percent of employee and retiree health-care premiums.
"These are all things that every union out there is trying to
accomplish," said Al Kogler, spokesman for CWA District 7 in Denver. "Maintain
health care, good wage increases and we want to increase the
quality of jobs."
But Kogler said he doesn't know if the Verizon agreement will
translate to the Qwest-CWA situation. "There's differences
between the financial shape of Qwest and Verizon," he
Kogler also noted there was give and take in the Verizon-CWA
negotiations. For example, new Verizon employees will see
reduced health care benefits when they retire.
Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs stressed even more strongly the
differences in the situations, although he would not discuss the
current bargaining talks.
"These are vastly different companies in terms of a variety of
measures -- market cap, revenues," Toevs said of Verizon and
Qwest. "But perhaps the biggest difference being the
Verizon Wireless operation."
Fast-growing Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon and
Vodafone, continues to have a very small percentage of union
Qwest, indicating where it is focused, said on its bargaining
Web site that it has given the union "hundreds of documents"
about the current "health-care challenge."
Citigroup analyst Michael Rollins on Monday upgraded Qwest from
a "hold" to a "buy," saying in part he believes Qwest will be
able to more aggressively restructure costs following the labor
Meanwhile, CWA members overwhelmingly voted to authorize a
strike if negotiations collapse. Kogler said a strike vote
is a normal part of the procedure.
For a strike to take place, the CWA executive board would have
to authorize President Larry Cohen to set a strike date.
The CWA covers workers in Qwest's 14-state local phone region,
with the exception of
Montana, where the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represents union employees.
* Negotiations cover 20,000 union employees in Qwest's
14-state local phone region.
* Current contract expires Sunday at 12:01 a.m. - one
week before the Democratic National Convention in
* Key issues include health-care costs, wages, retiree
* Union may have
leverage with DNC coming up -- Qwest is the official
telecommunications provider. But Qwest last week lowered
its financial forecast, and the union realizes the Denver telco is under
pressure to cut health-care and other costs.