Health Care Could Loom Large for Qwest, CWA

As Qwest tries to avoid a labor strike with the CWA, health care could be a major sticking point of the negotiations

Raymond McConville

August 11, 2008

2 Min Read
Health Care Could Loom Large for Qwest, CWA

With Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q)'s contract with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) set to expire this coming Sunday, union leadership could use its new deal with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) as a starting point for the negotiations. That could mean health care issues will be a major sticking point for the union. (See Verizon Avoids Strike, Now It's Qwest's Turn, Verizon Workers Set Strike Deadline, and Microsoft Plows Into Iowa .)

The CWA says that two of its biggest victories in its new agreement with Verizon were health care and FiOS. "It's a breakthrough in that it provides a basis for our union to do more work with Verizon in growth areas like FiOS," says Candace Johnson, a CWA spokeswoman. Aside from FiOS, Johnson says that Verizon agreeing to pay 100 percent of health insurance premiums was its other major victory in the negotiations.

Johnson says that in its negotiations with Qwest, health care is a big issue as well. It could loom even larger than it did with Verizon because Qwest does not have the growth projects like FiOS in place.

The U.S.'s third-largest telco is in the midst of a $300 million fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) upgrade project, but aside from that there won't be nearly as much work to be done for union workers as there will be for FiOS. (See Qwest to Spend up to $300M on FTTN.)

That means health care will be at least as important to the CWA in the negotiations this week, if not more. It's an issue the union is very passionate about -- so much so that as part of its new contract with Verizon, the telco is required to spend $2 million every year toward the CWA's efforts in lobbying for national health care reform.

That's $2 million of which not a penny will be going toward the union's members, but toward one of its completely separate projects.

Qwest is hopeful though, that it will reach an agreement of its own with the CWA. "We continue to bargain in good faith," said Qwest spokesman Robert Toevs. "We're hopeful we'll reach an agreement in a timely fashion.

Toevs says that in the event of a strike, the telco does have contingency plans in place which would largely involve managers stepping in to do much of the work. The last time Qwest dealt with a labor stoppage was in 1998 when its workers went on strike for two weeks.

The CWA members voted with a 93 percent majority to authorize a strike if no deal is reached this Sunday. It has not set a date however for when it would go on strike if it decided to go that route.

— Raymond McConville, Reporter, Light Reading

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