updated 8/17/2005 9:35:18 AM ET 2005-08-17T13:35:18

After several days of on-again-off-again negotiations, Qwest Communications and its largest union have reached a tentative contract agreement.

The pact struck late Tuesday includes a 7.5 percent wage increase over three years — 3 percent the first year, 2.5 the second and 2 percent the third; changes to health care to reduce overall costs for many employees; and an eight-hour cap on mandatory overtime, said Candice Johnson, spokeswoman for the Communications Workers of America.

The 25,000 workers in 13 states covered by the contract have gone two years without a raise and were increasingly concerned about having to clock more overtime. They sill must ratify the agreement.

“I’m excited. I’m relieved,” said Lori White, a customer service representative in Denver who said she had worried about a strike.

In a statement, Denver-based Qwest said the agreement “meets the future needs of the company and the union.”

“I think it’s a good agreement for both sides,” Johnson said. “I think it reflects that Qwest recognized that the union work force is value-added and a critical party in helping the company.”

The bargaining teams put the final touches on the pact after several days of sporadic talks that intensified after the union’s previous contract expired at midnight Saturday.

The CWA agreed to keep negotiating without a contract in hopes of avoiding a strike.

The hike in basic wages is the first since 2003, although employees received some bonus payments.

Johnson said the health care package was restructured so that employees will not have to pay a monthly premium, but there were changes in some out-of-pocket costs and a new enrollment fee for spouse and family coverage.

Retirees who left the company after 1990 will maintain health care with some changes to life insurance coverage, the district’s e-mail said. The sides agreed to a $1,500 out-of-pocket maximum amount set per individual for prescription drugs.

Dale Feller of CWA Local 7777 in Denver said he and his colleagues were reviewing the terms of the pact.

“The early indications would be it looks like a contract that recognizes the hard work of the people,” he said.

The contract covers Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Utah. Qwest is negotiating separately with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents about 300 workers in Montana.

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