Qwest, Union Fail to Make Deal; No Strike Yet

Qwest Communications (Q) and its largest union ended the weekend without negotiating a contract, but workers remained on the job.

A bargaining team for Communications Workers of America (search) spent much of Sunday in caucus after talks broke around 4 a.m. Negotiations resumed about 12 hours later, but ended before midnight Monday.

Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs (search) said early Monday the company and the union would continue negotiations, but he had no specifics on scheduling.

"We look forward to reaching an agreement," he said.

The contract, for nearly 25,000 workers across a 13-state region and retirees, 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.

The union said late Sunday that a number of issues remained open, including what it said were proposals from Qwest Communications International Inc. (search) to increase mandatory overtime from eight hours a week to 13 hours a week and to create a two-tiered pension plan where new employees would not have access to a defined pension plan. The union has requested to add an extra nonpaid personal day.

"There are a lot of areas yet that need to be worked through," CWA spokeswoman Candice 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.

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

"Qwest is adamant that they need changes in benefits, not only from the aspect of actual costs but also from the outstanding liabilities that are an inherent part of any benefit program," the union bargaining team wrote in an e-mail Sunday afternoon.

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.