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Hoping to sidestep a strike, Qwest, union keep talking

DENVER – Negotiations between Qwest Communications and its largest union resumed Sunday evening as workers remained on the job without a contract in hopes a strike could be avoided.

A bargaining team with Communications Workers of America spent much of the day in caucus and briefing members on the negotiations. Among the key issues were health care and other benefits for the nearly 25,000 employees across a 13-state region and retirees, but other issues also remained unsettled.

“There are a lot of areas yet that need to be worked through,” CWA spokeswoman Candice Johnson said.

Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs said the company was bargaining in good faith but declined to offer specifics. “We’re looking forward to closing down on an agreement,” he said.

The contract expired at midnight Saturday, but the two sides agreed to continue to talk. The union’s executive board has already authorized the president to set a strike date, and that could happen at any time, Johnson said.

The union said late Sunday that several issues remained open, including what it said was a proposal from Qwest Communications International Inc. to increase mandatory overtime from eight hours a week to 13 hours a week and a union request to add an extra nonpaid personal day. Toevs said Qwest would not comment on specific proposals. 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.

Union officials said Saturday that Denver-based Qwest offered a wage proposal linked to increases in health care deductibles and co-payments and said retirees and active employees could retain their current health care plan if they agreed to start paying a monthly premium.


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