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Qwest, union quit talks; workers remain on job

Talks between Qwest Communications and its largest union ended early Sunday but workers remained on the job without a contract in hopes a strike could be avoided.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Negotiations between Qwest Communications and its largest union were suspended early Sunday but workers remained on the job without a contract in hopes a strike could be avoided.

The sides met for 20 hours before breaking about 4 a.m. MDT, Communications Workers of America spokeswoman Candice Johnson said. Talks were expected to resume later Sunday.

Qwest Communications International Inc. agreed to drop its proposal to increase mandatory overtime from eight hours a week to 16 hours a week, but there was no agreement on other key issues such as health care benefits and wages, union officials said.

Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs said the company continued to bargain in good faith but he declined to offer specifics. "We're looking forward to closing down on an agreement," he said.

The contract for nearly 25,000 employees in 13 states expired at midnight Saturday but the two sides agreed to continue to talk. The union's executive board has authorized the president to set a strike date if merited, which could happen at any time, Johnson said.

Both Qwest and the union have made contingency preparations if there is a walkout. The company has set up a schedule to deploy managers across its region for such duties as installation and customer service. Toevs has said operations would remain normal if there is a strike.

Key pending issue are wages and health care benefits for the active union members as well as retirees. Union officials said Saturday that the company offered a wage proposal linked to increases in health care deductibles and copayments.

The company's proposal said retirees and active employees could retain their current health care plan if they agreed to start paying a monthly premium, the union said.

The company is working to reduce its current overall debt of about $17 billion after losing out this year to Verizon Communications Inc. in a bidding war for MCI Inc.

The 13 states are Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Utah.